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Review of Money Carlo Marketing Scheme

Some car dealerships these days resort to deceptive marketing practices to drive traffic into their showrooms. This blog was published to describe my personal experience with the marketing tactics of one dealership – these are simply my opinions, so I encourage you to read my thoughts and draw your own conclusions.

The Pitch

The “Money Carlo Game” is a direct mail marketing promotion sold to car dealerships by a company called DDS Events and Marketing LLC, located in Indiana. The promotion is customized to the car dealer’s individual specifications and bulk mailed to thousands of addresses in the vicinity.

The goal is to drive as many recipients of this marketing piece to the dealer as possible. Here is how DDS describes it:

Our commitment is to provide you with the most innovative and effective direct-mail products in our industry. We will customize a direct-mail campaign for your dealership with one objective in mind, to bring record numbers of customers to your showroom ready to buy.

In one campaign alone, DDS claims to have mailed 30,000 pieces of mail:

The Money Carlo Mailer

Here is the front page of the “Money Carlo Game” mailer that I received from Poulin Auto Sales of South Burlington Vermont:

Poulin’s marketing mailer is a promotional contest with these rules printed prominently on the front cover:

To play simply lift tabs on card. If you have a matching pair, you win!*

Winners call: 866-509-9493

Then proceed to Poulin Auto Sales of South Burlington during event times to claim your prize.

My Money Carlo Game card has a pair of matching 777 symbols corresponding to a win of $5,000. (After speaking with the dealership, my understanding is that all of these mailers have a matching 777.)

The instructions have absolutely no qualifying language around the conditions needed to win, which is a key part of the deception. It does NOT say that a matching pair means that “you MAY win.” Instead, it has an asterisk leading to the following fine print buried inside the mailer:

(-) NO PURCHASE OR DONATION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. PURCHASE OR DONATION DOES NOT INCREASE CHANCES OF WINNING. Void where prohibited. Having a matching combination qualifies you to play the $25,000 Instant Win Scratch Off Ticket contest. $25,000 Instant Win Scratch Off Ticket requires removing (6) of (30) scratch off surfaces to reveal winning symbols to claim cash prize, which may be used toward the purchase of a 2010 Toyota Tacoma (Stk #055654, VIN #3TMLU44EN7AM055654 MSRP $,999) 36,044 miles. Odds 1:593,775. See rules on card for details. If after you scratch off the $25,000 Instant Win Scratch Off Ticket and you are not a $25,000 winner, you will receive a $1,000 internet shopping card as a consolation prize. (This card is valid only for the amount shown. All shipping & handling charges plus a once per order $5 processing fee is the responsibility of the holder. These fees must be paid by credit card. Please go to www.goshoppingmall.com for complete terms and conditions.)

The Deception

In my opinion, the fine print is where Poulin’s mailer crosses the line into deceptive marketing territory.

Remember, the front page of the marketing piece has these instructions on the criteria for winning the contest, along with the list of winning prizes:

To play simply lift tabs on card. If you have a matching pair, you win!*

However, the fine print appears to completely contradict these instructions by stating that any “matching combination” does not have any reward other than qualifying you to a scratch off ticket:

… Having a matching combination qualifies you to play the $25,000 Instant Win Scratch Off Ticket contest. …

Note: The odds of winning this scratch off game are one in 593,775. It is doubtful that Poulin Auto Sales had half a million scratch off tickets on hand for this promotion, so I suspect that there was no $25,000 winner.

If a matching pair does not equate to one of the cash prizes promised on the first page, then what is the purpose of defining the cash value of each matching pair, other than to deceive the reader?

On closer inspection, we see two very small asterisks next to each cash prize that lead to this fine print:

(–) NO PURCHASE OR DONATION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. PURCHASE OR DONATION DOES NOT INCREASE CHANCES OF WINNING. See dealer for details. Bring invitation to event location to compare your confirmation code to prize board to determine if you have won $5,000 cash, $2,000 cash or $100 cash. Winner/addressee must be 18 years or older, and must bring flyer to event location during the sale dates listed above. a) All taxes are the responsibility of the prize winner. b) Odds of winning $100 cash ($100 value) are 1:50,000. Odds of winning $2,000 cash ($2,000 value) are 1:50,000. Odds of winning $5,000 cash ($5,000 value) are 1:50,000. The designated winner must show valid state I.D. and must be verified as the designated winner on file with the insurance company. c) This promotion is void where prohibited by law. d) Dealer not responsible for lost, late or misdirected prize piece. Not responsible for typographical errors. e) This contest is sponsored by the dealership listed on advertisement. f) Eligibility limited to U.S. residents. Employees and relatives of dealership are ineligible to participate in this promotion. See dealer for complete contest rules. Any unclaimed prize will not be awarded. Must be 18 years of age or older to win. Sales Event hosted by DDS Events & Marketing.

Once again, another confusing contradiction as to the rules of the contest – the fine print connected to the cash prize definition table states that the $5,000, $2,000 and $100 prizes are awarded by comparing a “confirmation code” against a list of winning codes present at the dealership.

Solving the Puzzle

I believe that Poulin Auto Sales did a fantastic job at deceiving recipients of this marketing flyer into believing that they have won a $5,000 prize. Here is the scheme that was engineered:

  • Every mailer is printed with a matching 777 pair that is uncovered when pull tabs are removed.
  • According to the rules printed on the front page, every mailer appears to be a $5,000 winner.
  • Recipients of the mailer must visit the dealership within the specified time frame to claim their cash prize.

  • Each mailer also has a unique “confirmation code” printed on the front.
  • The confirmation code must be matched to a list of codes in the dealer’s showroom in order to determine if it has won one of three cash prizes.
  • Once at the dealer showroom, each person receives a scratch off ticket that is eligible for a $25,000 prize.

Is the Money Carlo Marketing Scheme Illegal?

Has Poulin Auto Sales violated any laws with this marketing promotion? In my personal opinion, the answer appears to be yes.

Vermont law prohibits “deceptive acts and practices” in commerce under 9 V.S.A. Section 2453(a).

This law is further clarified in Vermont rule CP 109.01(c), which specifically prohibits the use of a promotional contest that “uses publications, literature, written or verbal promotion that is false, deceptive or misleading.”

In my view, this certainly appears to fit the description of Poulin’s Money Carlo promotion.

Not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time that Poulin Auto Sales has been accused of deceptive marketing. Here is a story from 2013 regarding a similar deceptive promotion:

Conclusion

I submitted a complaint to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, who forwarded it on to the Vermont Vehicle and Automotive Distributors Association (VADA) ‘s complaint resolution program.

As a “not for profit” organization, part of the VADA’s stated purpose includes the following mission:

The Association will work to improve and promote the ethics and the general welfare of the automotive industry in the State of Vermont.

Furthermore, each member of the VADA pledges to the following:

Advertise our products in a positive, factual, and informative manner.

Unfortunately, the VADA summarily dismissed my complaint without even addressing my allegation of deceptive marketing.

Review of Money Carlo Marketing Scheme Some car dealerships these days resort to deceptive marketing practices to drive traffic into their showrooms. This blog was published to describe my ]]>