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It was a hair's breadth away from a highly hyped flop. But the Publisher's Clearinghouse live Prize Patrol award last January ended up paying off big not just for Mary Ann Brandt of Phoenix but also for Todd Sloane, PCH's director of marketing development.

"It was kind of like Geraldo going into Al Capone's vault," says Mr. Sloane. "We were hoping not to find a Coke bottle, but a winner."

Mr. Sloane, along with Carroll Rotchford, advertising coordinator, Assistant Ad Manager John Ebeling and Executive Director of Advertising Dave Sayer, found their winner during a 30-second, $310,000 spot that followed the Jan. 29 Super Bowl. America saw Mr. Sloane doing the "live" stand-up on a 2-plus-hour-old tape of Mrs. Brandt collecting $10 million.

The goal of the promotion, says Mr. Sloane, was to encourage more people to return PCH mailings by "convincing the world" that the company really does give away millions to the winner.

PCH refuses to disclose how many entries are returned each year-before or after the promotion-but claims $100 million in sales.

The promotion was more than just the live ad, says Mr. Sloane; it started with an omnipresent teaser TV campaign that ran from Dec. 18 to Jan. 3 hyping the giveaway.

But insuring that there would be a winner at the other end of the PCH check wasn't easy. On the day of the Super Bowl, the prize patrol called Mrs. Brandt posing as a market research team and asked to interview her about the game's ads. They asked her if she would be home. She said no.

Luckily, Mrs. Brandt surrendered the address and phone number of where she would be and the rest was advertising history.

While Mrs. Brandt reaped $10 million, PCH pulled in nearly a third of that with $3 million in free publicity, Mr. Sloane estimates, including a 12-minute slot on "Dateline NBC."

Whether PCH plans a repeat next year is a secret as zealously guarded as the name of the winner. But Mr. Sloan hints it's possible. "Let me just say there's no reason for us not to do it again."

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