Games fraud wake-up call

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In the mcswindle revelations that took the shine off the Golden Arches, there were many victims. McDonald's Corp. was not one of them. It's inconceivable that the country's largest fast-feeder-and one of its most venerable and influential marketers-had so few controls over its Monopoly and other game programs that an apparent swindle cheating consumers out of $13 million in prizes could operate undetected for six years.

The chilling effect of the McDonald's episode isn't lost on a marketing industry that heaps $1.5 billion on sweepstakes annually. How could this happen to any responsible marketer, let alone one of the size and sophistication of McDonald's? It's a question that must be addressed, and quickly, by practitioners of consumer product marketing. An honest assessment of each marketer's promotional capabilities, tracking mechanisms and security controls is in order. It may take some time to uncover exactly what went wrong at McDonald's, but this much is already clear: The company was inexplicably, and inexcusably, lax in policing a trusted, 25-year vendor.

Yes, McDonald's senior management did the right thing by acting to exert damage control via a new game promotion to give back to customers a portion of the prize proceeds from previous games, money allegedly diverted by what its former promo shop, Simon Marketing, calls "one rogue employee." But McDonald's, too, is guilty after a fashion-for not watching closely enough over its myriad and lavish consumer promotion programs.

In the long run, McSwindle won't hobble the consumer promotion industry. Marketers will continue to embrace sweepstakes and games, and after the initial publicity and class-action suits have died down, consumers will forgive and forget the incident. That's what happened with other major promo debacles that have faded from memory. But the promotion and consumer marketing industry must never forget, and must always be vigilant. After all, there's a lot more than Monopoly money at stake.

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