I used to be a big fan of Starbucks’ wacky contests—those that reward you randomised stickers, tokens, or other trinkets on a digital playing field for completing various “buy stuff from Starbucks” challenges. And in saying that, I might as well be saying, “I’m a sucker.” It’s a lot shorter.
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I’d get really swept up in Starbucks’ marketing efforts, rushing out at obscure times of the day—sometimes even twice in a day—to complete a challenge in one of these contests. Doing so would award me even more digital chances to complete one of Starbucks’ digital objectives and score big prizes, like extra Starbucks Stars or a free year’s worth of coffee.
The genius of Starbucks’ promotion is that its digital format makes it easy to forget the underlying principle of these kinds of giveaways. Here’s the secret: The odds of you winning anything significant from Starbucks are very low, and the entire point is to get you to buy more Starbucks stuff, not to give you any kind of reward for your efforts.
That shouldn’t be news, but what might be eye-opening is how infinitesimal your chances are for what you might consider to be “low” or “easy” prizes in Starbucks’ games. Consider its latest “Starbucks for Life” challenge. If you click through to read the official rules, which you should do whenever you’re seriously considering upping your shopping habits to win something in a silly giveaway, you’ll find this chart:
Grand Prize - “Starbucks for Life” - 5
First Prize - “Starbucks for 1 Year” - 15
Second Prize - “Starbucks for 6 Months” - 50
Third Prize - “Starbucks for 3 Months” - 125
Fourth Prize - “Starbucks for 1 Month” - 100
Fifth Prize - PlayStation 4 system and a code for a 12-month PlayStation Now subscription - 135
Sixth Prize – Two (2) Atom Tickets - 400
Seventh Prize – 400 Bonus Stars - 200
Eighth Prize – 150 Bonus Stars - 25,000
Ninth Prize – Starbucks for Life Coffee Collection - 2,500
The numbers listed after each potential prize are the number of “rare” game pieces that exist in the game. In other words, you only have 25,000 chances to win the rare piece that will help you get 150 bonus stars, hardly a prize you’d write home about. And the odds of you winning a rare piece for an even better prize are lesser still.
Consider how many people buy Starbucks coffee on a daily basis, and how many of those people are likely playing this free game, multiplied by the month or so this game is running, and you might start to realise exactly why you, and everyone else, aren’t going to win anything. Your extra shopping to complete the game’s challenges, winning you more chances at rare pieces, is more likely to help Starbucks’ coffers than your star collection.
Instead of buying stuff, be smarter about playing giveaway games
If you simply must play these games, or you feel you’re due for some lucky break, don’t buy anything if you can avoid it. Start by reading the game’s official rules, so at least you’ll get a sense of whether your chances of winning are low, microscopic, infinitesimal, or non-existent. This might be all it takes to convince you that the extra coffees you’re considering, or McNuggets, or whatever, aren’t worth buying. And in doing so, you’ve probably now “won” more money (by saving it instead of spending it) than you’d actually ever receive in one of these sweepstakes.
Otherwise, see if the game has some way to play without purchasing. In Starbucks’ latest “Starbucks for Life” game, for example, you get two free entries per day for submitting your information to a web form. And each time a new weekly challenge appears, you get two free entries for that, too. Go this route, and you’ll probably earn more plays than you would just buying coffee—and these free entries also let you complete your weekly challenges, earning you even more free plays. You still probably won’t win anything even remotely significant, but you’ll feel better knowing you didn’t have to do anything to have a little free fun with the game.