Coca-Cola has hit a few bumps in the road following the February launch of its first consumer loyalty program.
Chat boards and message boards have been buzzing about problems with point values, disappearing prizes, wish lists and expiration dates, some even referring to the program as “My Coke Rewards Scam.” Some of its more than 2 million members have contacted Coca-Cola, and the company has taken action as part of a continuous evaluation of the program, said Coca-Cola spokesperson Scott Williamson.
Consumers register on MyCokeRewards.com then collect codes from bottle caps and packaging across the entire Coke portfolio to bank online and later redeem for rewards that range from magazine subscriptions to cruises for two.
Early into the program, some members began complaining that the top rewards were unattainable under the program’s current structure. Members can enter a maximum of 100 points per day for a total of about 30,800 (codes can be entered Feb. 27 through Dec. 31) over the course of the program. In one chat room, a member complained that it would take 56,000 points to get the red couch from American Idol. The purchase of a 12-pack, 12-ounce fridge pack offers 10 points and bottle caps dole out three points each.
Coca-Cola has since adjusted the point values on rewards so that the highest point value is 26,000 for prizes like the cruise for two, a five-day U.S. destination vacation or a walk-on movie role.
“We recognized that some point values were too high so we have adjusted the prize points to make them more attainable,” Williamson said.
Ninety-nine percent of the prizes can be redeemed for less than 5,000 points and 83% can be obtained with less than 100 points. So far, the program has awarded just about 300,000 prizes, Williamson said. Prize categories include sports, music, gaming, family, entertainment, electronics, travel, fashion/beauty, Coke, NASCAR and summer.
Some members said another problem was the wish list. Members can place rewards on a wish list and then work to earn points to obtain the prizes.
Phil Dlatt, a Coke loyalist who lives in Lake Zurich, IL, said he and his family of five drink about 48 cans of Coke per week. He said the MyCokeRewards.com Web site is easy to use and registration was simple, but he became disappointed when he discovered that all of the prizes he had posted on his wish list had sold out quickly, way before an above-average Coke drinker could build enough points. He had listed a PlayStation 2 that he had hoped to redeem as a Christmas gift for his children, a Foosball and air hockey table and a bag to carry baseball bats. He said all of the prizes disappeared and were not replaced.
“The kids would have liked it,” Dlatt said about the PlayStation 2. “But, here it is June when this disappeared. I just can’t believe that their inventory is so low that they were out of these things a couple of months after the program started.”
Williams said that Coke heard the concern about wish list prizes disappearing quickly and began e-mailing members to let them know when wish items were being exhausted.
“It’s another opportunity for us to communicate to the consumer exactly what prizes are available and which ones will quickly be unavailable so they can plan accordingly,” he said.
That is no consolation to Dlatt.
“These [prizes] were all gone long before I had enough points to redeem them,” he said. “When you’re 400 points short, frankly [an e-mail notice] doesn’t help you very much. To me, it makes me want to go drink Pepsi. It just shows how it’s not a realistic program for a regular Coke-drinking family of five.”
An early rule that points would expire after 90 days of account inactivity appears to have been removed.
The program allows for a number of ways members can boost point values, including a “double points” promotion that runs randomly and a summer sweeps currently live on the site, which offers a chance to win 50,000 points. And if that isn’t enough, a search at eBay.com yesterday for “My Coke Rewards” turned up 114 hits with people selling everything from 200 points (from 20 12-packs) for $14.49 to 20 bottle caps worth 60 points for $5 (free shipping included).
Dlatt said he has been very active in the program, but has not seen any promotions for double rewards.
“Unless I’ve been on a totally different planet, I have not seen double points,” he said.
In a related development, a St. Louis, MO, consumer has filed a lawsuit against the Coca-Cola Co. claiming that the My Coke Rewards program might prompt kids to drink so much soda that they could die or at the very least become obese, The Associated Press reported.
The woman, Julia Havey, a weight-loss instructor and author on diet books, filed the lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court asking Coca-Cola to change or drop the program. She is not seeking monetary damages.
Williamson said the lawsuit has no merit and that Havey is misinformed. He said that consumers can get points for buying low- and no-calorie beverages like Diet Coke, as well as Coke Zero, and that members can buy drinks for parties and their families, not just for themselves.
“The idea that the individual who enters the codes must also drink all of the beverages that those codes come from is [not correct], he said. “The formula that she works out assumes some things that are not based in the facts of the program.”
Havey’s attorney, Alvert Watkins, said that the lawsuit would also be dropped if a Coca-Cola executive let his child drink 152 soft drinks on TV, the AP reported.