How much is a "lifetime supply?"
May 30, 2007 3:43 PM   Subscribe

When companies sponsor contests to win a "lifetime supply" of their product, how do they decide what constitutes a lifetime supply?

My friend and I were pondering this today after my son asked me last night. He had heard on the radio about someone winning a "lifetime supply" of soda/pop (he couldn't remember which brand) and he asked me, "How do they know if the winner will want to drink one can per day or 10 cans per day, or do they set a limit?"... Are there any Mefites who work in the marketing or contest fulfillment industries (or any contest winners) who have first-hand knowledge of how those kinds of prizes work?
posted by amyms to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you read the small print in the announcements, they tell you what they consider a lifetime supply.
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:57 PM on May 30, 2007

They always limit the supply; if they didn't, you could demand the product by the trainload and sell it for a profit.

Generally, it's more than any normal family would consume, but that's not guaranteed. The actual amount differs per contest. As Comrade_robot says, they will always specify what they consider to be a lifetime supply in the fine print.
posted by Malor at 4:06 PM on May 30, 2007

Similarly, "free gas for a year" is usually a gas card with a fixed amount representing 12,000 or so miles for the given car.
posted by smackfu at 4:08 PM on May 30, 2007

Thanks for the answers so far. It makes sense they would set a limit, but does anyone know how they decide what the limit will be? (i.e. do they base it on something logical, like market research that tells them "the average person will drink/eat/use x-amount of our product per year" or do they just decide it arbitrarily?)
posted by amyms at 4:16 PM on May 30, 2007

When I won 'Jeans for Life' as a child, it was a single free pair of jeans every year for the rest of my life, or, until the entire retail chain went bankrupt four years later, whichever came first.

How the amount gets determined is probably different from company to company. Some probably make estimations based on their own sales/usage info, and others probably make it up. I say this based on my limited (but non-null) experience with seeing how contests are run from the back-end. There's a lot of legal requirements around how prizes are given away, but very few about what the prizes are. Most places running contests are making shit up as they go along.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:35 PM on May 30, 2007 [3 favorites]

How do they decide what the limit will be?

My guess would be that it's mainly based on publicity potential. If they're too stingy it could cause them a black eye. So they'll be pretty generous, without leaving the limit so high as to represent an unacceptable expense.

That said, you should realize that in most contests the prize itself is far from being the biggest expense involved. For a big contest, advertising and publicity can cost twenty times the prize, and administration of entries and suchlike can cost a few times the prize. It isn't really worth their while to spend lots of time trying to research exactly how big the prize should be (i.e. let's do lots of work to find out just how much gas an average family of four uses in a year) if for no other reason than because the money spent doing that research would better be spent making the prize itself bigger, so that it's better publicity.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:37 PM on May 30, 2007

Thanks all! You've helped me to give my son an answer to his question (and to satisfy my own, and my friend's, curiosity)... If anyone else has any first-hand experiences with contests/prizes of this nature, we'd love to hear more.
posted by amyms at 7:20 PM on May 30, 2007

I imagine they decide on a budget, eg: "We have $5000 to give away, let's give them $5000 worth of our product, and call it a lifetime supply." Because you know there's got to be some sort of tax-writeoff in there somewhere.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:08 PM on May 30, 2007

One case of a "lifetime supply" that might be worth researching is a "lifetime supply of chocolate chips".

Everyone knows that the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies is the one that Nestle puts on the back of its packages of chocolate chips. That's the original "Tollhouse Cookie", and it was developed by a woman named Ruth Wakefield, who worked at the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts.

Nestle bought the rights to the recipe from her in exchange for a "lifetime supply of chocolate chips". So it might be interesting to research that to see just how much they delivered to her every year. (Whatever it was, it was cheap at the price. That recipe is gold.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:55 PM on May 30, 2007

A bit of added info on the process, just in case it interests you. In the instance of my 'Jeans for Life' win, the contest was co-sponsored by Woolco (which was a Canadian department store chain) and the jean company, which I tend to think was Wrangler, but I forget at this point. I know they didn't make girls jeans, though, so my mother made the deal that if I got my brother a pair of jeans as my prize, she'd buy me a pair, too.

In order to collect my prize, I was given a book of certificates, and a photo ID card, redeemable each year on or after my birthday, for a free pair of Wrangler jeans at any Woolco store. So every year we'd go in and find some jeans for my brother, and then take them and the certificate back to the customer service desk where no one would have any idea what to do with it.

It generally took waiting until one specific employee (who happened to be a friend of our family, so remembered us, and the contest) was working and could verify that yes, they were supposed to give us jeans in exchange for the coupon that no one had ever seen before. Even with her in the store, it was a painful process to get paperwork filled out and approved.

Ultimately, I suspect it wasn't really worth the aggravation we (by we, I mean, my mother) went through every year to get those jeans. She was probably glad that Woolco went bankrupt or got bought out or whatever it was that happened, so she didn't have to go through that anymore.

I imagine the farther and farther away you get from the date of your 'X for life' win, the harder and harder it is to convince people at the company that supplies X that there ever was a contest, and that they really owe you an X. We only got 4 or 5 years out of it, and it was difficult already by the 2nd year.

I suspect, too, that companies that offer X for life prizes don't adequately think through the long term costs of administering X for life prizes. Unless they offer up a cash value prize instead, they've either got to create a lifetime worth of coupons that'll still look valid in 25 years to employees who weren't born when the contest took place or find some way of ensuring an annual delivery of product to someone who may move constantly throughout the lifetime of the prize.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:56 PM on May 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh wow, jacquilynne, we had Woolco here in Kansas too, which was a branch of Woolworths, which eventually was bought out by Walmart. (if I remember correctly)
posted by amyms at 11:06 PM on May 30, 2007

FU are offering a lifetime supply of iced coffee at the moment: granted as an AUD80k cash prize. How they arrived at that number I'm not sure, but it's sure as hell easier than doing the admin work on giving away a few thousand $2 items over a few decades.
posted by polyglot at 6:12 AM on May 31, 2007

You should do some searching about Regis Philbin's unlimited McDonalds card. A while back McDonalds gave him this card that gives him unlimited food for life. He brags about it all the time.

On a related note, a friend of mine once won a prize from Jack-in-the-Box for free food for a year. The way it worked was they gave him a card that allowed him to order a certain amount (I think it was $5) per visit for free and it specified the dates. So he could go into any Jack-in-the-Box and get that amount. If he wanted more than the specified amount on the card, he would just leave and come back in to make it a separate visit.
posted by bove at 12:49 PM on May 31, 2007

My grandfather once won a "year's supply" of KFC. He got a book of 52 certificates, each good for a bucket of a certain size, all expiring a year from issue. Consuming same proved to be...challenging.
posted by tangerine at 2:03 PM on May 31, 2007

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