Coke Giving Tips on Tabs That Don't Work

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Coca-Cola Co. learned once before when it came up with a bright idea for marketing, things don't always work exactly as planned.

It recently put prizes--including cash--in some Coca-Cola Classic cans as a $100-million summer promotion for the brand, a name the company made up in 1985 after a brief and disastrous marketing brainstorm to substitute the longstanding Coke formula for something new. However, in some instances, the prizes have failed to pop up as designed when customers pull the tab and some thirsty people have found themselves gulping down a mouth full of chlorinated water.

Thus, the Atlanta-based soft-drink giant found itself Wednesday explaining in full-page newspaper ads how the darn things are supposed to work. "As you may already know, any can of Coca-Cola Classic could be a MagiCan. Although MagiCans don't have Coca-Cola Classic in them, you can't tell them apart from the real cans. So we'd like to help you recognize a MagicCan when you find one," read the ad that appeared in 50 papers, including The Times.

If it is a "MagiCan," the company said, the prize should pop up immediately when the customer pulls the tab. In a "small number of instances," the prize mechanism may jam, the ad said. "But by simply tapping the prize 'stem,' it should pop up," the ad said. If "something is jiggling inside the can, the prize mechanism has become detached," the ad said, although that is not supposed to happen. When it doubt, look in the can, the ad said. "If you see anything other than Coca-Cola Classic, it's a winner."

Most of the cans contain a rolled up $1 bill, but they also have coupons for prizes, including one for a trip to the 1991 Super Bowl. Some have bills in denominations as high as $500, said Coke spokesman Randy Donaldson. The "MagiCans" contain chlorinated water so that they will be indistinguishable from cans filled with Coke. The water is not supposed to come out even if someone tries to drink it, but there have been leaks and other failures, the company said.

The ad advised people not to try to drink from "MagiCans"--although the water is harmless--and included a toll-free number to report problems.

"To put this in context, we've had a very small number of complaints. At the same time, people around the country have won about 60,000 prizes," Donaldson said. The Coca-Cola U.S.A. promotion, which ends Aug. 15, is "unique," he said. "It's never been done before," said a jovial Donaldson in apparent delight that a deluge of media attention would boost further the promotion.

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