What happens when a product promotion goes too well?

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The American retailer, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc. that sells teddy bears and other stuffed animals found out on July 12, 2018, when they held a Pay Your Age promotion at their stores. Families were thrilled when the Pay Your Age deal was announced and who wouldn’t be when most of the plushes cost between US$25 and US$50. The promotion centered around in-store events where you could come in and select a plushie paying the age of your child. As you can imagine, people showed up at the stores mostly located in malls in droves. Very long lines ensued which caused authorities to become concerned about public safety. The deal was so successful that many stores had to close the line just hours after the promotion had happened.

A great success? Yes and no. It is great the promotion was so well received. Not so great that lines were closed and many customers had stood for hours to get into the stores then waited hours to get their bears causing very grumpy parents and disappointed children.

Grumpy parents + disappointed children + social media = PR nightmare

That is not a good formula for any brand. Parents have a long memory when it comes to brands who have done their kid wrong.

What can we learn?

It is easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback, but let’s see what we can learn from this situation unfolding now. The marketing team was very productive. They promoted their event effectively, and they did have FAQs up detailing common questions and sharing the restrictions. All bases were covered. I am sure all of the KPIs for the campaign were met, but the reputation of the brand has been tarnished.

Promotions both online and in-store required a lot of planning. Even for a $378 million retailer, this is a massive undertaking. There are many moving parts with many departments within in an organization involved from production, supply, staffing, etc..

During the development stage, it is crucial not to silo in a promotion this large. Every internal stakeholder needs to be involved in planning to give a full view. Marketing and public relations both should be at the table. A public relations professional should be providing environmental and situational scans of the marketplace.

Two main points:

1. SWOT
Conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis in the early stages is vital. It is a reality check for everyone in the room. There needs to be a Debbie Downer sitting at the table. It helps in planning for the what-ifs. As in what-if, the promotion is so successful that thousands of families show up at the retail stores then what do we do. It helps the team to map out the what-nexts so they can plan to resolve them before they happen or have measures in place to manage it when it does.

2. Monitoring
Setting up a listening program when launching a promotion is necessary. It helps the team listen to the conversations regarding the brand not just the brand mention, but hashtags associated with the brand. It is a good idea to think of possible hashtags in the planning stages to be prepared. Monitoring allows you to gauge the sentiment and respond.

The Build-A-Bear public relations team is involved now. The brand has been communication via all channels regarding the lines closing and the concern for public safety. They are giving out vouchers (UK – 12 and US – 15) to customers.

A statement issued by Build-A-Bear at July 12, 2018, at 11:30 am EDT:

“Please be aware: Based on the unprecedented response to our Pay Your Age Day event in our early opening stores, we are experiencing significantly longer than expected lines and large crowds. Local authorities are requiring us to limit the lines and crowds due to safety concerns. We understand this is disappointing, we are working to address the situation, and we will be reaching out to our valued Guests soon.”

That was the holding statement knowledging the situation. The next 24 hours will tell if they have managed the fallout from having a successful event. The response to customers will be key. And they handle the customer demands and disappointments.

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