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A couple of days ago I received a coupon in my email for a free pizza from a local pizzeria. It was a one day deal – a free medium pizza on July 8th only. Not being one to turn down free food, especially food filled with grease and cheese, my interest was piqued. I closely examined the coupon for any hints of a catch, and found that there were no qualifications. Just show up, show the coupon, and walk away with your medium cheese pizza!

That coupon did exactly what it was supposed to do. It got me to go to their location, peruse their menu while I waited, and sample their pizza.

“A successful marketing campaign!” you might say. Ah, but if you’d seen what I’d seen (and tasted what I’d tasted), you might change your mind.

Here’s the thing… if you’re gonna advertise free pizza, you probably ought to have enough pizza to give away.

Apparently, they underestimated how much demand the words “Free Pizza” can muster in a community. I got to the place a little after 6pm, to find a sign taped to the door: “Free pizza ends at 6pm.” There were about 20 people waiting in a line or milling around the sidewalk with tickets. (They had taken to giving out tickets to speed the line along.) I was at the end of the line when the guy came through with the final round of tickets, so I was the last one to get a free pizza.

That also gave me a front row seat for how this place handled telling people that they weren’t going to honor their unqualified free pizza coupon.

To their credit, they were consistent and calm with their story. The story itself was simply that they ran out of ingredients, which isn’t going to help anyone who’s walking away without a pizza – especially the guy behind me, who asked “you have enough ingredients for him, but not for me?” It was a good question for which they had no answer, since picking me as the last person was rather arbitrary. Other than consistency and calm demeanors, they pretty much screwed everything else up.

They did not offer any “consolation prizes” – no free alternatives like a chicken fingers meal, or fries, or soda, or a coupon to get a free pizza on a return visit. They didn’t even offer much of an apology, really. What they did was create a whole bunch of people who were upset and will probably talk about it, thus losing customers and creating ill will toward them in the community.

Now, the second failure…. if you’re giving away free pizza in an effort to entice return visits, make a quality pizza. The pizza I came home with was just slightly better – maybe – than frozen pizza, with a tough crust and a very thin layer of almost crusty cheese. I hope that the low quality of the pizza was because they were rushing and making mistakes. If that’s the way their pizza is normally, I’m surprised they’re still in business. I know I’m not planning to go back and pay for pizza there.

The third failure: the coupon also prominently advertised their website as having their full menu and specials. The website, however, is a placeholder site only. It has their address and phone number, and “Under Construction” throughout. If you’re gonna advertise your website, maybe you ought to have a website…

So let’s review the “success” of this marketing campaign:

  1. People who managed to get a pizza got a sub-standard pizza, and probably won’t be back.
  2. People who managed to get a pizza had to wait a LONG time to get it, and by the time they ordered most probably didn’t order anything else in hopes of getting out quicker. No/low cash coming in.
  3. People who wanted a pizza after 6pm get flatly turned away with no positive experience whatsoever. They definitely won’t be back. (They’re open thru 9:30pm… that’s a lot of people turned away.)
  4. The people who couldn’t make it to get the free pizza but may have subsequently ordered something from the website advertising are completely lost. They not only won’t be back, they never came.

That is the result of a horribly planned marketing campaign.

Anybody else have experience with a marketing or customer service failure lately?

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