McDonald's Monopoly game: A great promotion gone bad?

McDonald's Monopoly game 2009 is being played at McDonald's restaurants around the globe and, like every year at this time, I find myself compelled to buy fries and soft drinks in an effort to hoard game pieces. Yet, this year, the joy of this annual endeavor seems to be fading.

At one time, all you had to do was buy something, get a game piece and place it on your special Monopoly board. But now players who want to take their best shot at prizes ranging from $50 to $1 million must navigate Facebook, send text messages, log into McDonald's online sweepstakes site and watch NBC's Jay Leno show to see what, if anything, they've won.

Not only that, but buying a small Coke for a chance to land the B&O Railroad piece no longer flies. Now during lunch or dinner, you have to buy expensive items in order to get the coveted game pieces.

With all of the new rules and ways to play, you need a scorecard to keep track of where you stand and I can't help but wonder: Has McDonald's made it too complicated for customers to play?

McDonald's, of course, doesn't think so.

"We're not really getting complaints about the game piece products," says Douglas Freeland, director of U.S. marketing and project lead for the McDonald's Monopoly game.

In fact, he says the fast-food chain is giving more money away this year than it ever has in the past, which may mean more people will play. For instance, this is the first year customers can win $1 million each day. In the past, there was only one or two big winners, now with the daily TV drawing, as many as 36 people can win $1 million. However, in the past, you had to collect Boardwalk and Park Place or four railroads game pieces to win $1 million. Now, you have to collect game pieces, enter 11-digit codes onto McDonald's sweepstakes site, and watch the Jay Leno show to see if you've won $1 million.

"At some point it becomes overly complex, but you have to to throw in new wrinkles to keep people involved," says Larry Miller, restaurant analyst at RBC Capital. "When they added the online game board, they made Monopoly better and even more addictive than just collecting the pieces."

Fair enough, but one twist to the game that is bothering me is that only one of the products that qualify for game pieces during lunch or dinner is cheap enough to make it onto the dollar menu. For the most part, customers can only get game pieces if they buy more expensive products, including the Angus burger and 10- or 20-piece chicken McNuggets, or high-margin products such as large fries or a medium or large fountain soda. Pieces aren't available on small-sized fries or sodas, as they had been in the past. Therefore customers who want to play, better prepare to pay up -- and eat more (large fries pack a whopping 500 calories, whereas a small fry has a mere 230.)

"McDonald's always ties Monopoly to their premium products because it helps boost sales," says Steve West, analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. Indeed, he says, the game is a consistent winner for the Big Mac-maker's bottom line.

Save yourself calories and a few dollars and buy a lotto ticket. Your odds of winning the Mega-Millions multi-state lottery drawing are three-times better than the odds you'll collect both Boardwalk and Park Place pieces. Sure, you'll miss out on the Monopoly fun and visiting the golden arches, but you'll save yourself the nuisance of entering codes into your phone or on the Web. If I eat an Angus burger, large fries and a medium soda each day to get my six tickets, that's more than 1,500 calories a day. Make the game simple again for those of us who just want to eat a small fry and dream of a million dollars.

(Correction: A previous version of the story said that none of the lunch or dinner items that qualify for game pieces can be bought for one dollar. In fact, some McDonald's may be able to buy tea for one dollar and receive game pieces.)

Anthony Massucci is a senior writer and columnist for DailyFinance. You may follow him on Twitter at hianthony.
Read Full Story