The summer of 1990 was supposed to be magical for Coca-Cola. At least according to a clever marketing campaign that ended up being a marketing blunder rivaling that of New Coke.
From the beginning of May until August 1990, consumers of cans of Coca-Cola had a shot at winning cold, hard cash, up to $200, gift certificates and coupons in a unique can, called a MagiCan, rigged with a spring mechanism that would pop out when opened. As a Pepsi drinker, I got caught up in this MagiCan campaign. Of course I never won anything or saw one of these James Bondian style cans in person. I do love the idea of it though. It’s that out-of-the-box thinking that is needed in marketing.
Coca-Cola even sponsored New Kids on the Block’s 1990 summer tour to tie into the promotion. I’m not a fan of their music but realize they were a big deal at the time and at the peak of their popularity. With the gimmick of the can and the endorsement of one of the most popular bands in the world, the promotion had all the ingredients for success.
Those ingredients weren’t exactly measured right by the time this got underway. The failure of the MagiCan was the concern of people drinking the faux liquid that was used to add weight to disguise the winning cans and the malfunctioning of the spring device. Since the special cans needed space to house the prize-winning paper, they did not contain actual Coke.
The cans were partially filled with a foul-smelling chlorinated water to give the weight of a real can of Coke in order to keep people from finding winning cans by lack of weight or shaking it. A child did get a hold of a can that leaked the water and smelled bad. His parents thought the can had been tampered with and notified police as they were unaware of the promotion.
Coca-Cola ended up taking out a full-page advertisement in 50 newspapers to educate consumers to “Take a Good Look” at the cans. The ad was designed to help located malfunctioning or leaking cans and report them to the company.
Unfortunately, after a week the damage-control ads ran, Coca-Cola folded. Not wanting to risk anymore bad publicity, the soda giant ended the MagiCan promotion by the end of May. All was not lost though. Rather than flush their $100 million investment down the toilet, Coca-Cola still sponsored the New Kids on the Block tour, gave away free tickets, and used “MagiCups” with peel-off prize notifications at fast-food restaurants and other outlets that served fountain drinks.
Of course, ever the rivals, Pepsi wasn’t about to let Coca-Cola have the summer of 1990 to themselves. They countered Coke with their own promotion titled “Cool Cans.” With the help of Young MC, this was a less controversial campaign in that all cans had Pepsi in them and prizes were printed at the bottom to be redeemed later.
Obtaining the “Cool Cans” was a lot easier for this Pepsi drinker than it was finding a MagiCan from Coke. I did have all four cans back in 1990. Unfortunately, as I got older they no longer became collectible. They became trash. I wish I hadn’t thrown them out.