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Horse, Then Cart

There have been a couple of examples recently of people and companies launching marketing initiatives with the best of intentions — only to have their efforts stumble and struggle because of an unconsidered extra element. Case in point: This year’s Pepsi/iTunes promotion.

There have been a couple of examples recently of people and companies launching marketing initiatives with the best of intentions — only to have their efforts stumble and struggle because of an unconsidered extra element. Case in point: This year’s Pepsi/iTunes promotion.

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Here’s how it works: Something like one in three bottles have iTunes code numbers printed inside the cap. Get a code? Free download! Here’s the catch: Gizmodo reports that — just like last year — Pepsi drinkers and nondrinkers alike can ensure that they buy a bottle with a winning cap by tipping the bottle slightly. Not a bad deal — but probably not the promotion hack Pepsi and iTunes expected.

Similarly, FC Now reader Simon Helm emailed me yesterday about a recent snafu involving the band U2 and Ticketmaster:

U2’s official fan site, U2.com, offered fans priority ticketing for their upcoming tour for the album, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”. All they had to do was register at the site and pay a $40 sign up fee, and they were assured participation in an exclusive pre-sale to claim their tickets.

Using the codes proved problematic. Over at Ticketmaster, which was running the sale, IT systems couldn’t keep up. Even if fans could start moving through the steps needed to purchase tickets through the Ticketmaster site, they found that pages often took several minutes to load. That would only be a minor inconvenience, except that Ticketmaster had set a 5 minute timer on each transaction. Thousands of U2 fans found that they were timed out waiting for pages to load on the Ticketmaster site – and their codes had been invalidated as if they had been properly used.

Fans soon started to notice that the “best available” tickets they were able to buy – when they were able to use the site – were often in nosebleed sections at the highest price point. Some were even placed behind the stage. Meanwhile, scalpers had started appearing on eBay with stacks of coveted general admission tickets. Blogs lit up with complaints about the process, with some fans threatening to sue to get their $40 sign-up fee back.

You can read more about that instance at the fan site @U2.

Both cases make me think about work — and the need to manage expectations, as well as to underpromise and overdeliver. Does Pepsi or iTunes care that people are gaming the promotion so all winning bottles are purchased? How could Ticketmaster and U2 better handled their promotion? As they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men aft gang aglay.

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