Pandamonium Over a Promotion: What to do When Your Promotion is Too Popular

Over the years there have been a number of promotions that just exploded beyond a brand’s expectations.  In 2009, Oprah decided to treat the whole Internet to two pieces of KFC’s new Kentucky Grilled Chicken by promoting a coupon redeemable at participating restaurants.  Lines snaked out the doors and cars lines up at drive-thru windows.  Some customers waited two hours for their chicken and some were turned away with only coupons.

Not to be outdone, on July 12, Build-A-Bear ran a one-day sale where customers could get a stuffed bear for the price of their child’s age.  As POPPA BEAR said to MAMA BEAR, if we truly love our BABY BEAR that is a deal we just can’t BEAR to miss.  Build-A-Bear could not just grin and BEAR it when the lines got unBEARable.  So Build-A-Bear published a notice on social media stating that it had to limit the number of people for safety concerns.

Every brand wants to generate buzz over their promotion but what if a promotion becomes too big and fails.  Here are some KOALAty tips to ensure that your popular promotion doesn’t get too GRIZZLY:

  1. Don’t get crazy. “First 10 people who show up, win front row tickets for the Rolling Stones.”  This is a recipe for a stampede (or at least when I was sleeping out for tickets).  The point is, don’t have a promotion that encourages crazy behavior.
  2. Don’t make them crazy. When you give away something good for free, expect that people will want it.  The FTC has a whole regulation on using the word “Free”.  Psychologists have coined the term “Zero-Price Effect” for the situation where you’ll order something on Amazon if shipping is free, but won’t if shipping is a penny.  People are irrational, so don’t expect sane behavior when you offer something for free.
  3. Have enough stuff.  Have enough product to accommodate the reasonable amount of people you expect to redeem.  If the offer is open until July 2019, have enough product that you’d expect to cover redemptions through that date.  And, see above, if you’re having a free giveaway, multiple that number by 10.
  4. Add steps to the promotion. The Build-A-Bear promotion did require people to first join their bear club online before coming to the store to buy a bear, but that apparently wasn’t enough.  The idea of having a few hoops to jump through is still a good idea to help reduce long lines at the store or over-redemption.
  5. Sets limits. Both the KFC and Build-A-Bear promotions were to be run for a very limited time.  But the response rates were apparently much more than anticipated.  Make sure to have date and supply limits.  (But not so low that you encourage stampedes.)
  6. Think about where to redeem. The in-store redemption method of KFC and Build-A-Bear did succeed in driving people to the store, but you don’t want to then drive them away.  If you’re expecting an Internet full of redemptions, have people redeem online or even by mail.
  7. Know your audience. Depend® undergarment promotions do not excite the same population as giveaways of the latest technology.  Kids camp out at stores.  Baby boomers send their kids to stores.
  8. Quick responses to disappointed customers. You have a situation.  You need to go promptly into damage-control mode.  Customers are people, some are even reasonable.  They may understand that issues arise.    Offer them an alternative.  Do something promptly to keep them happy.  “Oh no, we’re sold out.  Don’t worry we can send you a 5% discount coupon off your next purchase” or something like that.

In the end, promotions are all about popularity.  But be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.

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