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Shell Star Trek Promotion created and supplied by Don Marketing

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The “Every Card Can Win Shell Star Trek scratch card game was invented for Shell by promotional games wizard John Donovan (photo left from a magazine article published at that time).

Donovan was a co-founder of the promotional games company Don Marketing which was responsible for creating a host of innovative forecourt games for Shell on an international basis including Shell Make Money, Shell Mastermind (linked to the BBC), Shell Make Merry (linked to Harrods) Shell Bruce’s Lucky Deal (linked to Bruce Forsyth) and Star Trek the Game linked to the original Star Trek TV series and the follow-up Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Each promotion had a budget of around £4.5 million. Don Marketing games for Shell ran in several countries around the globe.

The magazine was Promotions & Incentives published in July/August 1991. The story was covered in several pages under the front-page headline: “Will Shell’s intergalactic experiment pay off

It told the background story of how John Donovan created the promotion and agreed in principle a licensing deal with Paramount Pictures before ever putting the idea to Shell, which quickly agreed to accept the proposal. In other words, the spectacular idea was put to the oil giant Shell by John Donovan completely out of the blue.

Above text states:

Hang on! I’ve got a new idea…. said Don Marketing when the agency sold Shell its idea for the Star Trek promotion, neatly persuading the oil giant to abandon its catalogue scheme promotions. Case study by Anne-Marie Crawford

Extract from the case study: 

The Idea Star Trek was Donovan’s idea. It came as he was driving home one evening. “I heard on the radio that the BBC had negotiated some deal with Paramount and was launching the new series of Star Trek. It also had plans to re-release the old 1979 series,” Donovan says. His plan was to use the Star Trek theme as the basis of a promotional scratch card game. A number of other factors ensured that the idea took root. It was timely, which Shell wanted. Star Trek’s 25th anniversary was approaching and there was a flurry of renewed interest in the series.

Some years later, during high court litigation relating to a series of four different subsequent promotional ideas stolen from Don Marketing by Shell, lawyers working for Shell falsely claimed, contrary to all of the extensive irrefutable documentary evidence, that Star Trek The Game was a pre-existing concept. Shell settled all 4 claims.


(from page 2)


It is denied that Don Marketing U.K. Limited and/or Don Marketing Management Limited originated the “Star Trek : The Game in 1991 as alleged at paragraph 2(e) of the Statement of Claim or at all. The Plaintiff acting on behalf of Don Marketing and/or Don Marketing Management Limited assisted Shell UK to develop the pre-existing concept in return for a fee.

100 million Shell Star Trek The Game scratch cards were printed in the UK. They are now a collector’s item.

In March 1991, full-page adverts for the Shell Star Trek Game were published in magazines and many tabloid and broadsheet newspapers.

The tiny print at the foot of the newspaper and magazine adverts, including the one above.
® and © 1991 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved. STAR TREK is a trademark of Paramount Pictures. Shell Oil UK Authorised User. STAR TREK® and STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION™ may be viewed on BBC TV and on video distributed by CIC Video Ltd

Full page advert published in The Sun newspaper 29 March 1991

Daily Express Full Page advert published Tuesday 19 March 1991, page 20.


NEWS OF THE WORLD 24 March 1991


Daily Mail 19 March 1991 (Black & White Advert)

STAR TREK TREASURE HUNT Competition tie-in to the Shell Star Trek Game on page 12 of the Today newspaper published Monday, March 18, 1991 (PDF version)


STAR TREK TREASURE HUNT Competition tie-in to the Shell Star Trek Game on page 13 of the Today newspaper published Saturday, March 16, 1991 (PDF)

STAR TREK TREASURE HUNT Competition tie-in to the Shell Star Trek Game on page 28 of the Today newspaper published Tuesday, March 19, 1991 (PDF)

STAR TREK TREASURE HUNT Competition tie-in to the Shell Star Trek Game on page 32 of the Today newspaper published Thursday, March 21, 1991 (PDF)








Supporting joint STAR TREK themed competition Page 31, Today newspaper, Friday, March 22, 1991


Promotions & Incentives Magazine article: Will Shell’s intergalactic experiment pay off?

Faded fax message dated 13 July 1990 confirms terms of a licencing deal in principle between Paramount Pictures and Shell. At that stage, Shell knew nothing about the proposed promotion created by John Donovan based on a Star Trek theme. PDF

The circumstances of how the Star Trek proposal made to Shell was detailed in a recorded telephone conversation between John Donovan and a Shell executive on 24 June 1993.

Click on this link to see the concept proposal letter from John Donovan to Shell National Promotions Manager Stuart Carson, dated 13 July 1990, including the original concept board seen here:

Related fax to John Donovan from UK agents acting for Paramount Pictures. 




URGENT (Warp 10 even if the di-lithium crystals cannot take it Cap’n)


Shell Star Trek Retailer Brief


Having shelved its Collect & Select promotion, Shell’s 1991 Star Trek scratch card campaign featured the first Star Trek series. It coincided with Star Trek’s 25th anniversary, Paramount launching a new series and BBC screening the original 1979 episodes.

John Donovan, managing director of Don Marketing, an agency specialising in promotional games, says he has supplied more than a billion game pieces without any problems. He counts Shell’s Make Money game (said to have raised sales by 25%) and the Great Guinness Challenge (which boosted sales by 30%) among his biggest successes.

Donovan says: “I can’t see anything replacing them. Other techniques have been tried, such as lift-off windows, but people don’t like bits of card falling in their car, and scratch cards are a more secure format.” Don Marketing’s most recent scratch card campaign for Shell is Aqua-Valet, where punters scratch-off boxes in columns, winning from 25p off a car wash right up to a free wash.



Shell Star Trek Promotion devised by Don Marketing

Don Marketing proposal to Shell: 13 July 1990 – proposal shows deal with Paramount Pictures for mega promotion set up by John Donovan before Shell was even aware of the concept. Subsequent fax (exhibited) from Shell UK National Promotions manager Stuart Carson to John Donovan demonstrates the friendly relationship between John Donovan and Shell at that time.

Message on fax cover page from Carson said: “URGENT (warp 10 even if the di-lithium crystals cannot take it Cap’n)”

Shell launches Star Trek scratchcard game: Sales Promotion Magazine March 1991

Shell launches Star Trek scratchcard game

In the wake ‘of Collect & Select, Shell has launched a new scratch card promotion under the banner ‘Star Trek – The Game’. The company claims that its research has shown the popularity of this medium with its instant benefits over long term catalogue promotions.

The Star Trek theme was chosen for its broad appeal and the promotion will also coincide with the 25th anniversary of the television series.

The competition offers over £1.5m in prizes along with family holidays in California and the chance to appear with the Star Trek
cast at Universal Studios.

A separate promotion, aimed at HGV drivers is to run alongside offering free audio tapes for every 100 litres of diesel purchased.
The company also plan to relaunch its Air Miles scheme.

Warp factor ten, Captain!: Promotions & Incentives Magazine: June 1991

While Mr Spock wimped out and took off for an easy life in outer space, his father boldly went where no one in the family had gone before – into sales promotion.

Presumably because of his connections, Mr Spock senior and the family dog have ended up working for Shell on their latest forecourt promotion – ‘Star Trek – The Game’.

Well documented in the trade press, this is of course a scratchcard game offering over £I.5m in cash prizes and 15 holidays for four to California. Holiday winners can be filmed live with the Star Trek crew at Universal Studios.

Will Shell’s intergalactic experiment pay off?: Cover story plus coverage on 7 pages with extensive colour piks: Promotions & Incentives Magazine July-August 1991


Hang on! I’ve got a new idea… …said Don Marketing when the agency sold Shell its idea for the Star Trek promotion, neatly persuading the oil giant to abandon its catalogue scheme promotions. Case study by Anne-Marie Crawford

“Promotions run in a cyclic mode. With our catalogue scheme we had reached the end of the cycle and run into stalemate,” says Alan McNab, national promotions manager at Shell UK.

Hence, faced with a moribund market, Shell decided to change tack and launch its Star Trek game.

Collect and select schemes, points equal prizes, have long been stalwart forecourt promotions among the leading petrol companies. The familiar catalogues from which consumers choose different items when they have collected a certain number of points are almost synonymous with buying petrol.

Of course Shell has run promotional games in the past. These have included ‘Mastermind’, ‘Bruce’s Lucky Deal’ and, probably the most famous of them all, the ‘Make Money’ game, which its creator Don Marketing claimed boosted Shell’s sales by 30%. But these games did not represent a real departure from the long-term loyalty schemes.

Star Trek was different. McNab says it was a vehicle to take Shell away from a period of stagnation and adhering to promotional norms into “a new world of promotions”. But this wasn’t just a whim. Shell had concrete reasons for believing it was time for a change.

Early in 1988, Shell’s then promotional games agency, Don Marketing, carried out research which indicated that although the majority of motorists (51%) favoured collection schemes with a reward, a proportion preferred games because of the thrill of the instant win. Shell also felt that it was locked into a line of promotion it couldn’t vary.

According to Don Marketing’s managing director John Donovan, “It wanted to be flexible and topical where others were not.” McNab also saw it as a problem of sheer dullness: “It was time to inject a bit of excitement back into a stale marketplace.”

Don Marketing presented its findings to Shell with the recommendation that they carry out their own research. Donovan says: “We’re not a market researcher. We’re about promotional games so we’re bound to be a bit biased.” Shell commissioned its own research and came to similar conclusions.

From 1988 until January this year, Shell began winding down Collect and Select and started to work out its brief for the Big Idea which would carry it into the new world of promotions. Its complete change of tack was finally made in the spring of 1990.

Don Marketing and a number of other agencies pitched. Although Don has supplied Shell with all its major promotional games for ten years, the agency is not on a retainer and is expected to jostle for new work with its rivals. A small agency with a small team, Don Marketing works exclusively in promotional games, but it holds its own against more broad-based consultancies.

At this early stage, a number of schemes were bandied about and one idea – not Don Marketing’s – emerged as an outright winner. It was researched by Shell, then tossed back into the pot with other ideas. It still came out on top.

Shell was all set to run with this mystery project when at the last minute licensing problems with a third party arose and plans had to be dropped.

Shell was left with a major problem. It had deliberately steered itself off the Collect and Select course and now it was now stuck without an alternative plan. Don Marketing moved swiftly.

The Idea

Star Trek was Donovan’s idea. It came as he was driving home one evening. “I heard on the radio that the BBC had negotiated some deal with Paramount and was launching the new series of Star Trek. It also had plans to re-release the old 1979 series,” Donovan says. His plan was to use the Star Trek theme as the basis of a promotional scratch card game.

A number of other factors ensured that the idea took root. It was timely, which Shell wanted. Star Trek’s 25th anniversary was approaching and there was a flurry of renewed interest in the series. Sky TV had plans to run the very first series in an early evening slot and CIC Video announced that it was licensed to distribute videos of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek seemed to have universal appeal (the BBC thought it was worth paying $6m for its package). And as McNab was to say later, “Star Trek embodys a lot of Shell’s own values.” Donovan felt he was on a winner.

Early problems and solutions

Shell was not immediately told about Don Marketing’s Big Idea. The agency still had a lot of ground to cover and it was too early to say whether the scheme could actually work.

The first and potentially most damaging aspect to consider was the likelihood of a lengthy licensing wrangle which, because of the time factor, could have thrown everything out of whack.

In July 1990, Donovan telephoned Ten Marketing, Paramount’s UK licensing agent. Within 24 hours a deal was agreed in principle. The basic tenets never changed. “Ten Marketing’s director of international licensing, Jonathan Zilli, was in London at the time and this definitely speeded things up,” says Donovan. Games are what Don Marketing do best and once it had the licensing go-ahead, it was fairly straightforward for the agency to sit down and think about the game mechanics.

On 13 July 1990, although there were still a host of attendant details to be worked through, Donovan was able to present his basic Star Trek idea to Shell in reasonably final form.

Shell was impressed. Stuart Carson, then Shell’s national promotions coordinator and McNab’s predecessor, set events in motion. Shell agreed a budget of£4.5m to include prizes, advertising, security, printing costs, distribution and fulfilment – each potential headaches in their own right.

Shell was happy with the basic game mechanic which Don Marketing devised. Quite simply it was a scratchcard device featuring faces from the old Star Trek series: scratch off so many characters and win a cash prize. The promotion was to be offered to each of Shell’s 2,700 forecourts with a no-purchase-necessary element. In the event, 2,150 accepted.

Once Don Marketing got the okay from Shell, it took on extra staff, rolled up its sleeves and got down to work. At the height of the promotion, the agency had 15 people working on Star Trek. It wrote the rules, advised on legality, worked out game insurance with Lloyds and decided on the prizes.

These prizes fell into denominations of a £250 000 shareout for uncovering seven Captain Kirks, through £1000, £100 and £5 handouts right down to 50p for four or more Lieutenant Uhuras.

The £5 and 50p wins had to be submitted promptly for verification and redemption at the station where the game card was obtained. Other claims were addressed directly to Don Marketing’s offices in Stowmarket Suffolk.

In addition to the thrill of the instant win, the Star Trek game also combined a collect element, with the chance to win a holiday in California as the incentive. At the bottom of each card was a tear-off strip with one scratch-off portion. Beneath this portion was hidden a character from the new Star Trek series. Collect six and win the holiday.

McNab points out, “The Star Trek game combined a repeat purchase element.” To control the number of winners, Don Marketing seeded one particular new character, Riker, in only intermittently. Consumers kept scratching away in the hope of the trip to Los Angeles.

Everything appeared fairly straight-forward except for one thing: Shell insisted on an every-card-can-win game. An every-card-can-win game throws up a security nightmare. Donovan explains: “It’s to do with the problem of an open-ended prize fund liability. I’ve heard of cases in the States where everyone has ended up winning. Also, one of the first noughts and crosses games run by Esso had to be cancelled on the second day because it produced 20 valid claims for £1 00000.” The legal actions resulting from the Esso case are still dragging on five years later.

Nevertheless, Don Marketing was prepared to take this on board and face legal problems if and when they arose.

Events progress

A key security element was the printer. Don Marketing chose Norton and Wright, part of the Bowater group, because they had worked with them in the past and were impressed.

Ray Henderson, UK sales director at Norton and Wright, says, “Our speciality is game cards and lottery tickets. We actually brought the scratchcard process to Britain in 1976.” Norton and Wright persuaded Alan Roman, Shell’s print manager, to print their game cards on foil-coated board, developed for over-seas markets, which cannot be seen through, even with an X-ray.

Another factor which demanded attention was the game card variables. A scratch card promotion like Star Trek, generates several thousand combinations of characters. Don Marketing had to ensure that, because every card had a winning combination, there was no chance of anyone working out the combinations and winning every time.

Once again, the printers played a major role in making sure this didn’t happen.

The agency sent its gamecard variables on computer disk to Norton and Wright, where everything was verified.

Henderson explains, “We have computerised programmes to check all that. We vetted all the work.” Just to make sure, Don Marketing checked the films manually before millions were printed.

To keep things absolutely watertight, Don Marketing sent a senior member of its team down to the printing plant to seed the prizes, which ensured there was a spread throughout the country. “We wanted to ensure that only one individual knew which boxes contained the major prizes. Because of this process, we could insure against too many winners,” says Donovan. As a final security measure, each prize-winning card had a unique code printed under the “void if removed” panel.

By August 1990, the final checks were done and Star Trek was on the press ready for printing, but the Gulf situation worsened and Shell froze its plans.

In September 1990, Carson left Shell. In the interim his role was filled by Mark Foster, marketing communications manager. Shell took advantage of this breather to carry out further research through Hall Testing. It involved getting consumers to play the game. There were a couple of modifications, but none of the basic tenets was altered.

Around November of 1990, McNab took over as national promotions manager, retail, at Shell. After four months of inactivity, Shell finally decided to press ahead with launch plans for Star Trek.

On 14 December 1990, Norton and Wright got the order to print ready for 11 March 1991. Collect and Select was closed on 14 January 1991 and Shell stopped issuing points on 10 March.

Norton and Wright made its first delivery on 13 and 14 January 1991.

McNab is unwilling to reveal exactly how many cards were printed, although he does say it ran to “tens of millions’.

Soon after the 11 March launch, the advertising campaign began to roll out.
It was confined to press and local radio. Agency Senior King handled the dealer campaign and set up 30 local radio competitions around the promotion.

Don Marketing says there have been over 1000 major prize winners. Although the promotion has been wound up, claims are still trickling in. As a final security measure, Don Marketing has recorded every single claim on video.


Star Trek was scheduled to run for ten weeks, in the event it ran for 12. Shell is currently running an Explore Britain promotion alongside its longer term Air Miles campaign and plans to launch a new promotion on 2 September.

McNab is unforthcoming about Star Trek’s impact on sales. “The promotion was very successful as a vehicle to take us through the closure of Collect and Select. What we’re doing now is the new world of promotions.”

As far as Don Marketing is concerned, Star Trek is the biggest promotional game it has ever produced for Shell UK. It hopes to sell the idea elsewhere.

Shell’s competitors think it won’t be too long before disillusionment sets in.

Sources at BP suggest that Shell will be returning to catalogues at the end of the year. BP claims to have looked closely at the market, but decided to stick with catalogues. It has just relaunched its catalogue to take it more upmarket.

A spokeswoman for Esso says it is happy with its catalogue scheme and has no plans to change. She admits she has heard rumours “outside the company” that Star Trek did not altogether impress. A BP insider says, “Shell has totally misread the market. Catalogues are here to stay.” In the cyclical world of promotions, Shell is probably well prepared for such criticism.

Star Trek: the timetable

12 July 1990 Don Marketing clinches licensing deal
13July 1990 Don Marketing presents its idea to Shell
Summer 1990 Shell accepts: total budget £4.Sm
Summer 1990 2,I50 Shell retailers accept StarTrek
August 1990 Gulf crisis puts printing plans on hold
14 December 1990 Norton and Wright get the go-ahead
11 March 1991 Star Trek is launched

Picture Captions
Donovan: his brief was to be flexible and topical where other oil companies were not
Poster art: Shell retailers plugged the game

Shell Star Trek Promotion: Promotions & Incentives Magazine February 1992 and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.