More than 40 years on, the old classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory still holds a sweet spot in the nation’s heart. But not only is it a great film, it’s also one of the best examples of a consumer promotion of all time. Nothing screams Willy Wonka quite like “five golden tickets”, so it’s not surprising that it’s now held up as an example of what success looks like when it comes to a marketing campaign. As the film celebrates its 47th anniversary, it’s worth looking at what brands can learn from Wonka’s master plan.

I’ve got a Golden Ticket!

So, what made five golden tickets such a hit? Well, it goes back to thinking about what a successful consumer promotion looks like. If you want to get your customers’ juices flowing, the most important thing is to make the prize original and fresh. If it looks like everything else out there, people won’t care. To make a statement, you need to stand out from the crowd.

But – and it’s an important but – it can’t be too crazy. It needs to be something that links to your overall brand, otherwise it will just look out of place. Sure, you may not be able to offer customers a magical trip around a chocolate factory, but that shouldn’t stop you from being creative. Think about what makes your brand appealing and what the public would enjoy. Find a promotion that ticks both these boxes and you’re onto a winner.

It’s not just the experience you should be thinking about either. The way it’s presented also needs to have the wow-factor. If you get it right, consumers will want to get involved because it’s exciting – not just because they have a shot at winning a cool prize.

So forget about coupons or endless-letter codes and get a bit creative. Whether it’s a selfie on Instagram or a puzzle for customers to answer, your ‘golden ticket’ needs to be something that builds a relationship. Because let’s face it, engaging customers in this day and age is harder than getting a bar of chocolate away from Augustus Gloop! Brands need to try new things that get them to feel the same excitement as Charlie Bucket did when he unwrapped that winning chocolate bar.

The Candyman doesn’t always get it right

Even though Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory hit all the right notes when it was first released, Wonka would need to do some things differently today. After all, consumer needs have changed a lot since the 70s. Think about it, launching a global campaign – across so many different countries and cultures –with only five chances to win? It might be great for a story, but in the real world customers would expect better odds than that to part with their cash.

At the same time, there’s a lot to be said for exclusivity. Who doesn’t like to feel special? It makes people feel more engaged and the reward more exciting. If the promotion is too easy for customers, they won’t see any value in getting involved and will just lose interest. So, the ‘golden’ rule when creating a promotion is to strike the perfect balance between accessibility and exclusivity.

There’s also a fair bit that Wonka would need to learn when it comes to understanding a 21st century audience. His five golden tickets target everyone – from grannies to children, and from business owners to part-time workers. In today’s world, customers want a more personal experience. A scattergun approach just won’t cut it – it might feel like you’re reaching out to more people that way, but in reality you’ll end up watering down what your brand is all about.

It’s much better to target a smaller group of people with a message that really shouts out to them. That way, the promotion will create longer-lasting engagement with the people you’re trying to connect with and help promote your brand to the type of customers you really want.

Getting in the glass elevator

But even with all its limitations in today’s world, Wonka’s five golden tickets go to show that if customers get excited about a promotion, it boosts the identity of the brand. The more consumers like engaging with the promotion, the more they’ll get involved. Before you know it, you’ll have a very loyal customer on your hands who’ll keep coming back year after year.

And, the real beauty is, they won’t just be popping the one product in their trolley; they’ll be keeping an eye on the overall business for what’s coming next, whether it’s a new promotion or another product. And there’s no denying it: a loyal customer is worth ten of those who only buy a product once.

In a nutshell, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory might be an old movie and an even older story, but Wonka’s iconic promotion can still teach today’s brands a thing or five when it comes to improving how they engage with customers. Every brand will have a different golden ticket to offer, but if they find something that works for the business and offers something a bit different, they’ll be in a world of pure imagination.

Chris Baldwin

Chris Baldwin


Director of Consumer Promotions and Loyalty at Sodexo Engage