Domino’s free pizza fail is a reminder of the dangers of viral marketing campaigns

Another week, another social media stumble. Sure, it's Domino's this time, but it seems that few businesses are grasping the fact that their audience will bite the hand that, in this case, is promising to feed them. Suki Harrison explores the risks of attempting to go viral.

The number of organisations and individuals who unwittingly (or recklessly) flout gaming laws and leave themselves financially vulnerable is astounding. It’s a basic principle – don’t market what you can’t deliver. Social media is alive, it’s uncontrollable, and it has teeth.

In a community sense we’re all over the issue of online vulnerability – nude selfies, bullying, scams. We mightn’t have all the answers but we take it damn seriously. So why then do businesses keep stumbling blindly into giveaways and competitions that are not only a PR nightmare, but leave them fiscally exposed?

There have been some spectacular recent fails, which suggest that organisations simply don’t get that ‘viral’ doesn’t necessarily spell good news. And more to the point, you have to be able to stand over what you say on Twitter.

Consider the Sunny Co swimsuit giveaway – 50,000+ orders made within 35 minutes of the promotion launching.

Even more recently, make-up brand MAC spiralled from coveted to cursed after queues of people were left empty handed when their lipstick giveaway ran out within minutes.

I think the core issue is naivety. A tendency to pat social media on the head rather than handle it with respect (and perhaps a degree of fear). And of course the mistaken belief that giving something away for ‘free’ means you’re untouchable. Newsflash – you’re not.

Luckily for Domino’s, most people took it in good humour and even created a new hashtag #pizzafail, comparing the technology let-down to #censusfail. But when you’re fighting a customer service battle, your marketing weapon of choice probably shouldn’t be doomed to high-profile failure.

It’s mind blowing that multi-million dollar businesses drop the ball so publicly when the answer is simply to be prepared. Viral competitions are, truthfully, few and far between, but you best be ready in case yours is one of the ‘lucky’ ones.

Can your website handle 50,000 visits in 35 minutes – or indeed your app of choice manage 10,001 pizza orders? Are you in fact prepared to hand over 50,000+ free swimsuits? And for goodness sake, have more than a piddling 150 lipsticks to hand out.

People love free stuff – they’ll spend hours of their time and trek kilometres to get to it, so don’t underestimate their rage when it’s all been for nothing.

And then there’s the professional competitor – it’s their job to get something for nothing, and you can be assured that they won’t let you off the hook if you don’t deliver. Of course they’re not your market, but if you haven’t done your homework you can bet your bottom dollar that you’re theirs.

In the social media world the adage of ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’ really doesn’t apply. In fact, the business next door is as likely to achieve ‘virality’ as a global chain – they just won’t be as capable of weathering the storm.

Respect the power of social media. Expect the unexpected. Follow the rules. And for goodness sake take the time to think through and lay out tight terms and conditions.

Otherwise be prepared for your giveaway to turn into a giant headache. After all, who doesn’t love free pizza?

Suki Harrison is the founder of OrigamiGlobe


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