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


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