Today’s sleazy, shortsighted marketing move is brought to you by Dr Pepper. This company made a grand, fun, high-profile gesture and got considerable positive publicity for it. But then, they made it such a hassle to cash in on their offer that the truly cynical nature of this marketing ploy is laid bare.
In the world before the internet, they might have gotten away with it. But online, people do talk.
Apparently, today — and today only — you can get a coupon for a free Dr Pepper soda. And you can thank Guns N Roses singer Axl Rose for it.
…That is, you can get the coupon IF you jump on it before 6 pm ET today, and if you jump through a bunch of hoops. And if the site doesn’t crap out on you. Then you wait 4-6 weeks for your coupon to arrive in the mail. Once you get it, you’d better use it fast!
Here’s the backstory, and why this could become a perfect example of anti-marketing in the online age…
The next Guns N Roses album had become known as a unicorn — it was constantly rumored to be just about to appear, yet never materialized. Capitalizing on this pop culture meme, in March beverage manufacturer Dr Pepper announced:
“In an unprecedented show of solidarity with Axl, everyone in America, except estranged GNR guitarists Slash and Buckethead, will receive a free can of Dr Pepper if the album ships some time — anytime! — in 2008.”
Yes, it was refreshing to hear a major corporation make such a fun and seemingly generous announcement — one that, incidentally, did not mention anything about the offer being limited to a single day. But as the Motley Fool pointed out at the time, Dr Pepper’s corporate parent Cadbury plc (NYSE: CBY) “score[d] free marketing, not to mention applause from the legions of aging GNR fans. …And as news of Dr Pepper’s gambit spreads internationally, Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) and PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) could also benefit. Outside the U.S., they’re often the ones making and selling Dr Pepper.”
Yesterday, Guns N Roses called Dr Pepper’s bluff. The band finally released its first album in 15 years: Chinese Democracy. At this news, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday:
“Dr. Pepper, which earlier this year pledged to give soda to everyone in America if ‘Chinese Democracy’ came out this year, is now making good on its promise. That is, if you can actually access the company’s website. …But if you go to Dr. Pepper’s actual website to try to snare a voucher for your free soda, good luck. You’ll likely get a server error. …Update: Dr. Pepper has extended the offer until 6 p.m. on Monday.”
Here’s Dr Pepper’s own announcement of the extension.
MY ONLINE EXPERIENCE: DR PEPPER SITE BOMBS
Intrigued by this, I decided to try to get my own Dr Pepper coupon (even though I loathe the stuff, and I’m no Guns N Roses fan either).
So I logged on to Free Dr Pepper page. I dutifully surrendered to the corporate behemoth my name, birth date, and e-mail address. I saw at the bottom of the form that the terms of this deal include: “Allow 4-6 weeks for coupon to arrive. Coupons will expire on Feb. 28, 2009.” They also provided a checkbox where I could agree to receive e-mail from Dr Pepper — I left that blank, of course.
Then I pushed “submit.” While I was waiting to be moved along to the next step in the online process, I checked my calendar and realized I might not receive my coupon in the mail until Jan 5, 2009. By that time I’d have less than two months to redeem it.
…Finally, the Dr Pepper site chugged along — to a blank page. Nothing. Nada. No way to provide my postal address so they could mail me their piece of paper.
So far, I’ve tried four times to register for my free Dr Pepper coupon — always the same result. And for a while site is down completely. Evidently Dr Pepper’s servers cannot handle the sudden spike in traffic.
Big surprise? I think not…
NOW, THE OBVIOUS QUESTIONS ARE:
- Why would Dr Pepper make this offer available only for a 24-hour period? That runs blatantly counter to the generous, spirit of the offer. It also is asking for a huge, sudden traffic spike that they obviously couldn’t handle.
- Why weren’t they ready, and what could that mean? This traffic spike shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. Also, Dr Pepper ended up having most of a year to think this through and prepare. Judging by the result, it looks like they probably didn’t think this through at all. That could merely indicate ineptitude, or it could mean that (despite the company’s professed support for the band) they were actually betting against Guns N Roses producing a record in 2008 — which ends up looking cynical, not fun (except to the band’s detractors).
- Why distribute this coupon only by mail? A printable online coupon would surely be easier and less costly for the company, and also easier for many consumers. People probably want their free Dr. Pepper TODAY, not in 2009. Soda is, after all, all about instant gratification. (A mailed-out coupon could be an option for people without internet or printer access.)
- Why limit the redemption period to the end of February? It just seems unfair: Consumers must jump through several hoops and then wait and wait and wait for a coupon — but then WE are the ones who are expected to dash right out and get that Dr Pepper? Hmph.
- Why turn enthusiasm into annoyance? The aggravation, waiting, and hassle that people must endure to get that coupon — let alone the privacy issues (they need your postal address to mail your coupon, plus they’re getting your e-mail address just because) — seems to be an active anti-marketing strategy. That’s right: This move seems destined to undermine goodwill and consumer relationships, not build them.
My guess is that the answers to questions 1-4 are that Dr Pepper wants to look generous without actually having to be generous. Therefore, they’re making it hard for people to cash in on their offer — a standard rationale behind most coupon offers.
And as for #5: Someone at Dr Pepper really just doesn’t get how marketing works in the online age.
RESORTING TO THE TELEPHONE
Fortunately, you can also phone in your coupon order to Dr. Pepper. Just call 888-377-3773. I did that just now.
On my first try the line was busy, but I got through on the second try. Their automated system mentions “delays on our web site. We are taking several steps to resolve the delays.”
Then you go through the process of verbally giving their automated system your name and postal address — and your e-mail address, too. That’s odd, because it’s a telephone transaction. They don’t appear to give you an option to provide no e-mail address (although I didn’t test that, so I don’t know for sure).
Also, although the web-based form required you to opt-in to get Dr Pepper’s spam, their phone-based system offered no such option. It’ll be interesting to see if I start getting spam from Dr Pepper or other Cadbury brands.
Sometime around the New Year I’ll report back on whether I actually received my Dr. Pepper coupon, and my experience redeeming it — and also whether I start getting Dr Pepper spam in the meantime.
It’ll also be interesting to see whether this faux pas really backfires on Dr Pepper. If the mainstream media — especially entertainment media, and TV and radio — catch on to it, that could happen. And they’d deserve it.
But this also could just be something that geeks and bloggers whine about in their own bubble. We’ll see.