We Are Bonds shows the fine line between failure and success in digital

Bonds Birthday Project its not youYesterday, it seemed a big ask: the Bonds Birthday Project set itself a target of finding an Australian for every day of the 97 years Bonds have been in business; 35,301 people in total.

Within 24 hours of the site launching, over 20,000 people had submitted their photograph to claim their birthdays. As a campaign idea, it’s brilliant.

But as with the Share a Coke campaign, there are some shortcomings in terms of its execution that lead me to ask whether creative agencies are best placed to lead the digital element of this sort of campaign.

sylvester bonds birthday projectIn part thanks to a PR-friendly celebrity portrait shot and launch event, the incredible media pick up (breakfast TV, Today Tonight and the newspapers including the front page of mX all ran the story) and massive volume of public interest demonstrates that it’s engaging, entertaining and creates conversation – in short, everything you’d hope a socially driven campaign in 2012 would be.

But as conversation about Bonds across social networks started to pick up pace yesterday, common themes began to emerge.

Bonds Birthday mobile versionThe fact that there was no mobile version was another criticism.People complained they were struggling to use the site on different browsers; that they couldn’t easily upload and edit photos, and once uploaded, the delay in being approved was significant, often leading to disappointment as other users signed up the date first.
This was compounded when the spike in traffic following the Today Tonight feature (last night’s show rated more than 1m viewers and as you’ll see below was virtually a four minute call to action), hitting a peak load of an extraordinary 4,500 users attempting to access the site at once, causing it to crash.

At peak moments, users were uploading ten photographs per minute, all of which needed to be moderated and approved by actual humans.

So can brands reasonably expect or plan for the levels of user engagement Bonds saw yesterday and remain cost efficient in the event they’re not a victim of their own success?

Is it better to ask for forgiveness than pay unnecessary server costs? Without moving to the sometimes complex world of cloud computing, it’s a reasonable enough call to decide to invest in managing the issue if and when it arises, rather than planning for runaway success.

To this end, Pacific Brands and Clems have now deployed a team of 10 people to work around the clock approving the flood of photo submissions, they’re focusing on boosting the site capacity and are frequently updating the Bonds Facebook page, as well as making a firm commitment to “giving more” to everyone who submitted to thank them for their participation – full details to follow, they tell me, pending legal approval.

Bonds BirthdayAnd this morning the site seems to be working normally, with the number of complaints on the Facebook page slowing down.

Arguably there is a degree of First World entitlement at play here; “this competition for a free t-shirt I am in no way obliged to enter has a slightly cumbersome entry mechanic” – but there are a number of issues that I would argue could – and should – have been ironed out before going live with the promotion.

Most creative agencies have already incorporated digital into their offering, but there are some highly specific skills and capabilities which seem to be missing – search, user experience and mobile compatibility, to name a few.

To create a seamless user experience, brands need to consider every digital touchpoint. I suspect that the often laborious process of thorough user testing often loses out to the cool factor, and there’s no doubt that the site looks great – on desktop computers anyway.

But would a more experienced digital team have built the entire thing in HTML5, overcoming the mobile and tablet issue and perhaps resolving some of the site responsiveness issues from the outset?

There is often nothing glamorous about digital work – it’s frequently nerdy and process driven, but if you get it right, you can ensure that you don’t miss out on a single interaction a user could have with your brand. How many fans or purchasers did Coke miss out on by not having an optimised web presence other than Facebook, leading to less savvy consumers requesting personalised cans on the Mumbrella comment thread?

There’s no way of knowing this for certain, but these are basic routes to engagement online that a 360 digital approach should cover.  The Bonds search component seems reasonably well executed, with Google Adwords covering any gaps in organic search.

These are small issues, another example: the copy displayed in organic search results hasn’t been optimised, meaning instead of a strong call to action you see a sample of text grabbed from the page by robots:

we are bonds robot text

I’d suggest that the Facebook community could have been managed more effectively had Bonds representatives interacted with individual users rather than leaving blanket updates (which I note they seem to be now beginning to do).

Users are unlikely to have seen these updates in their News Feed, meaning they may be left feeling their queries went unanswered and end up talking among themselves.

I’m guessing that a divide and conquer approach (Facebook community management combined with site  moderation) was eschewed in favour of ploughing through the 20,000 photo submissions – a mammoth undertaking even with ten staff pulling overnighters.

Clearly Bonds feel their planned thank you gifts, along with the next phases of the campaign including when the advertising kicks in, will be enough to overcome any negative sentiment, and we’ll have to wait and see whether this gamble pays off.

My colleague Tim Burrowes opined yesterday that the Bonds Birthday Project would be the campaign of 2012. The agency and brand’s actions over the next 48 hours may well decide if that’s correct.

Cathie McGinn


  1. richie
    29 Feb 12
    2:23 pm

  2. Cool article!

    Ad agencies: stop making photoshop files and sending them overseas to come back as shitty code. It is a technical skill, coding is hard work and requires planing and an implementation strategy all of it’s own.

    Advertisers: sure let Ad agencies come up with the idea, cause this is a great one! Just don’t let them implement it!

  3. Ben Still
    29 Feb 12
    2:32 pm

  4. Great article- it certainly feels like the concept and PR was well planned and meticulously implemented, but the digital execution was (ahem) a bit lacking.

    I’m not sure about “ensure that you don’t miss out on a single interaction a user could have ” – to be fair I’d imagine most sites will struggle at 4.5k concurrent users. Certainly different technology like html5 would help a lot, and avoiding a 1.5mb flash splash page (WTF?). But pre-build it is always hard to know what the traffic will be like, so it can be difficult to convince a client to allocate more to load testing and performance.

  5. Carolyn Hyams
    29 Feb 12
    2:37 pm

  6. I was really surprised (actually shocked) that they would have launched this campaign without a mobile compatible version.

  7. Sebastian
    29 Feb 12
    2:45 pm

  8. “Most creative agencies have already incorporated digital into their offering, but there are some highly specific skills and capabilities which seem to be missing – search, user experience and mobile compatibility, to name a few.”

    Best quote out there. The number of sites built by ‘digital agencies’ that we have to re-optimise is ridiculous. Please get some more grounded digital & user interface people to work with the brilliant creatives.

  9. Ngaire
    29 Feb 12
    2:48 pm

  10. Great analysis Cathie – it is a cool campaign but the digital side did let them down a bit.

    Apparently when the site wasn’t available last night people were posting their photographs and DOBs on the Bonds Facebook page to claim their dates. Not great in terms of personal info/identity theft given that peoples surnames were also visible. And like the Coke campaign I also saw some consumers trying to claim their dates on the Mumbrella comment threads.

    It will be interesting to see how the brand acts in the next few days and how transparent they are. Trendwatching have just done a whole briefing about how brands showing their flaws makes them awesome: http://www.trendwatching.com/briefing/

  11. Stefan
    29 Feb 12
    3:09 pm

  12. Nice post, and I agree – ad agencies are great at the concept but get digital specialists involved early in the piece to mitigate problems such as those outlined here.

    Building the site in Flash and no mobile optimisation is a big slap on the wrists though.

    Shame, because the concept is a very clever one.

  13. Ash
    29 Feb 12
    3:09 pm

  14. Still load the page, even 24 hours later.

  15. Ash
    29 Feb 12
    3:10 pm

  16. Can’t load the page that is…

  17. Edward Flanagan
    29 Feb 12
    3:20 pm

  18. Mumbrella dressed as a flower – 21.11.70

  19. James Norquay
    29 Feb 12
    3:20 pm

  20. Yeah website is not working, cant seem to upload the images or any thing.

    A bit annoying =(

  21. Justin
    29 Feb 12
    3:31 pm

  22. Why are people building sites in Flash in 2012?

    I agree that it’s a fantastic campaign idea. But the execution is very questionable. There is nothing about this site that demands Flash. Certainly not in the signup process. And as you rightly point out, all those iPhone and iPad users (which I would estimate to be between 10 and 20%) can’t even experience it.

    It wasn’t that long ago that the Flash developers out there could name their price and pick their projects. It’s amazing how quickly that has changed.

    It goes to show that in digital it can’t be ONLY “all about the idea”, because a good idea executed badly, is a bad idea.

    I think the Clems tagline is “The Work. The Work. The Work.” In this case, it should be “The Work. The Work. Doesn’t Work.”

  23. Afar
    29 Feb 12
    3:35 pm

  24. Anyone heard of User Acceptance Testing? May have identified a few omissions and performance errors. Oh and as for load? 4500 simultaneous users is nothing in this day and age and should have been well planned for, especially with the levels of PR, ATL and other forms of advertising.

    The cost of server performance for load is not cost prohibitive vs. the cost of Clems and their digital partner in executing this idea. Nor is knowledge in UX, mobile etc.

    But good idea to try and resurrect the retro heartfelt connection of what was formerly an Aussie icon.

    What is that good ole saying?…”….value for money….”

  25. AdGrunt
    29 Feb 12
    3:36 pm

  26. Shame this is appearing to come apart at the seams.

    I reckon you have until tomorrow to get it all stable and mobile humming before it starts to implode.

  27. Mike Boyd
    29 Feb 12
    3:40 pm

  28. Excellent post Cathie. I have great respect for agencies but when it comes to digital execution they fall well short. Basic maths – 35,000 dates multiplied by let’s say an average of 3MB per photo comes to 105GB of bandwidth! Scalability and concurrent user management is key.

  29. richie
    29 Feb 12
    3:44 pm

  30. nice article cathie. proof that the claim of how it ‘will be the campaign of 2012’ was premature to say the least.

    saying that, i got on there, experienced no problems, got my thank you for participating email then my confirmation email without any problems so, for me at least, it worked well

  31. dannyboi
    29 Feb 12
    3:45 pm

  32. #FirstWorldProblems

    Could be worse – it could be sparsely populated with photos from the Agency and only enough content to keep 1x moderator employed part time

  33. Sarah C
    29 Feb 12
    4:03 pm

  34. Lack of a mobile site is its biggest weakness. Given the majority of us view shared content from this sort of space on Twitter or FB (that we frequently view via out mobiles), this just seems like a gaping hole in campaign planning. I wanted to view this on my iPhone last night, but just got an apology screen!

    I love the idea of the campaign though and hope they manage to fill the gaps and make it work.

  35. Adrian
    29 Feb 12
    4:24 pm

  36. Uploaded image 24 hrs again and no news from Bonds.

    This could quickly go from brilliant to notorious.

    Agree with comments about due diligence and using specialists rather than ‘going it alone’.

  37. MicheyD
    29 Feb 12
    4:42 pm

  38. Great piece Cathie
    I really want this campaign to work, but it just goes to show no matter how good the idea, if you haven’t done the grunt work and the laborious user-testing, even the best idea can end up a disaster.
    Incedentally, my photograph was ‘unsuccesful’!

  39. MicheyD
    29 Feb 12
    4:44 pm

  40. * Incidentally

  41. Fee
    29 Feb 12
    4:58 pm

  42. I agree danniboi – it’s a success which is nice compared to a lot of other attempts at social engagement… But this still isn’t a “great problem to have”. My daughter is confirmed as 10.03.2010 but both my husband 15.10.1973 and myself 28.06.1978 are waiting and we all logged on at the same time… Don’t really know why I care so much about a t-shirt…But clearly the idea appeals to my ego!

  43. Pissed off
    29 Feb 12
    5:04 pm

  44. Major flaw.I claimed my day yesterday and checked back today to see my birthday has been claimed by someone else.Now I unhappy. Bad customer experience. Fail

  45. yeah, but no
    29 Feb 12
    5:06 pm

  46. I suspect they fell in love with an idea they really didn’t have the budget to pull off.

  47. Gezza
    29 Feb 12
    5:13 pm

  48. Good idea, But. The functionality on the photo manipulator doesn’t work and I had to re enter all my details three times before it all came together. I was very close to just going sod it!

  49. Hembo
    29 Feb 12
    5:13 pm

  50. A successful digital campaign must create a good user experience. You can make all the excuses about it was so great the website crashed however thats a cop out. It deserves backlash!

  51. Lisa
    29 Feb 12
    5:31 pm

  52. I also couldn’t reduce and crop my photo, so I just quit, it annoys me that I’ll be registered as a visitor when I had a negative experience.

  53. Bob
    29 Feb 12
    5:55 pm

  54. UAT is wishful in the world of advertising. I’ve no doubt the team would love to have had an extra 6 weeks to refine and improve but unfortunately constraints, no doubt the media schedule, forced for a rush job.

  55. Chris
    29 Feb 12
    6:19 pm

  56. And after all that the page says only 3,900-odd have been claimed! Seems they’ve a long road of fulfilment ahead of them.

    I wonder how much damage a poor digital experience has compared to the utility generated by success?

    Happily I got mine and my fiancée’s as soon as the Mumbrella broke the story… So thanks go to Tim!

  57. Cuthbert
    29 Feb 12
    6:51 pm

  58. Typical probs with agencies and websites.

    The creatives seem not to understand usability and want it fancy, but have no idea about real world users.

  59. version
    29 Feb 12
    6:59 pm

  60. I’m keen for a t-shirt with only my birth day and month.

    I wouldn’t want to disclose my birth year, just in case I ever interview for a job with Ben Lilley.

  61. Reevesy
    29 Feb 12
    7:33 pm

  62. Share a coke (see myself in lights) with a limited edition angle x Levis instagram ambassador discovery (crowd source) = sort of social at hear idea.

    definitely a runaway success – but where does this go next?>

  63. Mike Boyd
    1 Mar 12
    7:18 am

  64. Agree @afar and Ben Still – 4,500 users is NOTHING! Try 80,000 all day for the Melbourne Cup. That’s the load we’ve managed for TAB Sportsbet at a desktop and mobile level.

  65. Phil
    1 Mar 12
    8:28 am

  66. Poor planning is all it comes down to. An agency who didnt know digital could be to blame but what about Bonds? They have a history of creatibg great campaign ideas which tank when it comes to massive digital fails… Remember the make my baby the face of Binds camapigns? Huge problems with massive flash sites and submission moderation.
    Please Bonds work with your agencies but why dont you insist on using a real digital dev house and a proper social media team when they come up with great ideas…

  67. sam
    1 Mar 12
    8:50 am

  68. I got in early on this and checked my birthday for three days straight after I submitted and there was no photo. I just checked this morning and now there is a photo that is not me. I’m disappointed.

  69. Dan Monheit
    1 Mar 12
    9:03 am

  70. I wonder if the comments on this would have been the same if it had gone up this week instead of last… http://mumbrella.com.au/creati.....ways-74630

  71. mumbrella
    1 Mar 12
    9:48 am

  72. You did get in early if you did it for three days straight, Sam. The site went live just under 48 hours ago.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  73. still waiting
    1 Mar 12
    9:53 am

  74. How come my brother has his date sorted and I am still waiting 2 days later?

    I did his claim myself, several hours after making my own bid.

    Methinks they were too busy writing award acceptance speeches instead of ironing out all the bugs.

  75. Nat
    1 Mar 12
    10:20 am

  76. I got my email this morning saying i got my date. For me there were no issues with the site.

  77. Peter Bray
    1 Mar 12
    10:31 am

  78. So mistakes have been made, but wow people are ready to bite. We all try and do the best job we can, and sometimes we make mistakes. It doesn’t mean we aren’t professional, it means we are human. Clients also understand this. They don’t like it, nor should anybody, but they understand it.

    I hope those who are scathing of the digital component of the campaign can see the bigger picture, that this is a campaign that does something different and is ambitious, two traits that should be applauded. Do I personally care that the site doesn’t work as well as it could, well no I am not the free t-shirt type, but from a professional perspective could it have been better, of course. But come on people, none of us create perfect campaigns. We just try to, and criticism that is so quick to dismiss an agency’s digital credentials doesn’t encourage others to push the boundaries.

  79. The Worst of Perth
    1 Mar 12
    11:08 am

  80. Well all is not totally lost if Tim or Pat Rafter has your date.

  81. Michael Blumberg
    1 Mar 12
    12:46 pm

  82. So the site had a meltdown. Big deal. It still has all that “wish I’d thought of that” going on. Well done guys.

  83. richie
    1 Mar 12
    1:35 pm

  84. @Peter Bray I see what your saying, we don’t want people to stop trying new things for fear of public shaming in mumbrella comment threads, however i maintain that the larger issue is the fact that all the good digital briefs aren’t leaving the hands of advertising agencies and this is what is more likely to stifle digital effectiveness than anything else. If users keep coming into contact with fantastic ideas that are poorly executed then at a certain point they are probably going to stop engaging.

    Users expect such a high level of UX now, mostly thanks to the native OS on their apple products and the amazing level of free functionality available across the internet , if we as an industry do not maintain this level of UX the next time a user sees an awesome marketing concept with a hyperlink underneath to enter, they are going to think twice before bothering. Not to mention the fact that Bonds would have paid THROUGH THE NOSE for this digital execution! It’s not like this was some young guns having a go at a startup and they should be praised for trying!

    Ad agencies should concentrate on concepts and leave the execution to professionals. You don’t get an architect to build your house and you don’t get a builder to design it.

  85. Richard Boland
    1 Mar 12
    3:29 pm

  86. I perservered and got my birthday.

    I completed the info as requested. I have to admit that I liked the feeling of getting my birthday. I was then told to expect a delay on the T (fine) and was given a 10% off voucher. Nice.

    I then (5 minutes later) received an email telling me that they were very busy, to bear with them and that they would get around to my request soon.

    I was confused and then could not be arsed to check on whether I was there or not.

    So for me it is a nice idea and is being let down by simple fulfilment logistics and lack of planning. Fix the fulfilment it will be nicer.

  87. jean cave
    2 Mar 12
    8:02 am

  88. BONDS . . seem to have got their knickers in a twist.

  89. AR
    2 Mar 12
    10:34 am

  90. Today they have a splash page saying they can’t process any more entries.

    I tried my birthday intermittently over the week and could never edit my photo or have it saved.

    very poor execution for what was a fab concept.

  91. Craig
    2 Mar 12
    12:01 pm

  92. Great concept, flawed execution.

    Scalability is critical in any online initiative, with cloud hosting services and ‘on-demand’ moderation capability required to address issues of this type.

    The creative agency will, of course, claim it as a major success – and they should, for the concept. However bringing in the right digital specialists for the execution is critical.

    Personally if I want a t-shirt with my birth date, I’ll get it custom printed for $13 from an online service.



  93. AB
    2 Mar 12
    12:31 pm

  94. Agree they should have estimated and planned for volume of site visitors in developing this campaign. With so much media coverage and success of previous campaigns such as the baby search they must have had some idea of potential response rates. A splash page apologising for the overwhelming response of this campaign doesn’t make up for the negative experience of a large number of consumers. They who don’t care how successful this campaign is, they just want a chance to participate (and a free t shirt).

  95. The Worst of Perth
    3 Mar 12
    11:50 pm

  96. So are we ready to call this the dud root of marketing for 2012 yet?

    First they stuff up the implementation big time. Unforgivable but explainable – kind of.

    Next, the design of the comp specifically creates a class of “losers” who now have had a bad experience with Bonds. These are people (probably in the thousands) who would have previously had a positive to neutral view of Bonds. They entered the comp after all. Now, after being dudded into thinking their date was available, and sometimes after hours of attempting to access the site, they find they have been shafted. Nice work turning positive people into haters Bonds. How is this the campaign of the year? A different design might have avoided this, ie a random draw of those who submitted their dates etc. Not too hard to work out.. Now a class of haters has been totally unnecessarily created.

    And to make matters worse, it seems fairly obvious that the crush of submissions has led the moderators to randomly bulk dump submissions.

    Many of these “losers” – remember, consumers previously positive towards the company – then get another kick in the head with Bonds appallingly written loser email that seems at first reading to insinuate that the photo of themselves or their child may contain offensive material! Nice one again Bonds for insulting someone that wanted to participate positively with your brand. Now they want to slag you off at every opportunity. You have now created people who hate you.

    The other choices are that it contained company logos or was “too large’. As another commenter has suggested, a photo that works perfectly well in the pre approval preview, and that is perfectly fine in facebook – a medium specifically linked to by the company – is by definition not too large. If their software can’t appropriately scale the photo for final approval even after it has been scaled perfectly well in the preview and fits the social media specs that they specifically link to, then again, another compounded fuck up.

    And now to the winners. Well, Bonds are already down a custom tee shirt with each of them, I suppose, at what, $5 each? $3? But how long will it take before even they, the supposed winners get pissed of with the many weeks wait for their shirt while being reminded they still don’t have it by seeing a photo of Pat rafter at the bus stop?

    There really is not much of an upside to this disastrous campaign. I’m George Negus and I’m calling dud root.

  97. Penny
    6 Mar 12
    11:43 am

  98. I attempted to bag about 10 dates for family and friends. First impressions were excellent and the vibe was there! Excited…

    I did manage to get one Tshirt for my dad, but many were rejected as “too large”…over 24hrs later, but no mention of SIZE in the T+Cs! Having run many vid/photo comps I was shocked to see their T+Cs.
    Also shocked at no tablet/mobile; Flash (flash? what!?)
    Also in terms of user experience the upload froze every time you chose a non-facebook photo and the editing screen was for the most part unusable.

    Also very disappointed that the dates I DID get – no tee, but that’s ok – I cannot view them online as the site’s been down for a week. I definitely feel angry at the brand and think overall it’s a negative reflection.

    I was feeling pretty neutral about Bonds – like the baby tails for my baby but sick of the way they change designs so much, and not really buying the sexy aspect of such an old brand my grandfather loved. Now I feel negative.

  99. Sam
    6 Mar 12
    12:32 pm

  100. wow, that’s disappointing. i had uploaded, had my picture and my “about me” approved and displaying on the site … and I just checked and now it’s some bloke!! So in the process of their stuff-up, they have done a bulk dump of everyone and seemingly re-started… and I’ve lost out. Nice one Bonds.

  101. cynical
    9 Mar 12
    2:19 pm

  102. Anyone rushed out and bought some bonds products?


    Isn’t that what we use to do?

  103. N
    12 Mar 12
    2:43 pm

  104. No but I rushed out and purchased a brand new Lexus after seeing that banner half an hour ago.