There's another big contest that just started, where the grand prize seems like it's worth a heck of a lot more than it actually is. And it's a really striking effort.

Last time it was free McDonald's food for life.* This time, it's free Starbucks drinks and food items for life.*

Yes, those asterisks are intentional. We'll get to them in a minute. First, the high line details. 

Just as the McDonald's contest was intended to get people to download the McDonald's mobile app, this contest requires you to become a member of the Starbucks Rewards loyalty program.

Then, with the Starbucks contest, you get a "play" each time you make a purchase using a Starbucks reward card or using the Starbucks mobile app.

Fro every play, you get a game piece for each purchase, and if you collect the correct three game pieces in a row, prizes include "Starbucks for Life, Starbucks for a Month and more!" according to the official rules.

(By the way, that's their exclamation point, not mine.)

Speaking of punctuation however, here's why I think asterisks are in order. In short, it's because people naturally conflate the idea of "free for life" with "free unlimited for life."

But in reality, there are limits. The fine print of the contest shows that there are five grand prizes in the U.S., and that "Starbucks for Life" means "a daily credit to winner's account for 30 years for one (1) free food or standard menu beverage item."

Total approximate retail value? $56,575.00.

That's something of course. I'm not going to turn it down if you offer it to me.

But, it's not exactly mega millions. And yet people get really excited about these contests--because it's a product, as opposed to just giving you an equivalent amount of cash you could use for anything. 

Can you imagine how many people would sign up for a contest where the prize was $15 or $20 a week for the next 30 years? Hardly.

It's almost the exact same value as the top prizes in the McDonald's for life contest I wrote about earlier (same type of restrictions -- you get a McDonald's meal credit twice a week for 30 years). The value there was $52,350.

This is the fourth year that Starbucks has done this contest. And it's a very smart move from a marketing perspective. There are other prizes, too, and if you add up the total value listed in the fine print (I did it for you), you wind up at $767,825. 

Again, not nothing -- but Starbucks is an $82 billion company. Imagine that they can can get 1 million people to sign up for its app as a result of this contest; the cost per customer acquisition would be well under $1.

By my experience, that's amazing. And keep in mind that the prizes obviously cost Starbucks less than the retail price, and that you actually have to buy something each time to enter. I'm kind of jealous, actually. Good for them. 

And good for you, too if you're a big fan of Starbucks. Just know the value of what you're playing for.