How Viral can go wrong for Businesses: John Deere
To commemorate their 175th anniversary, John Deere unveiled a special that was too good to be true…literally. The automated deal was for a free $150 credit; meaning if you find $150 worth of stuff you want from John Deere they were going to give you the items for free, minus shipping and tax.
Niche blogs specializing in money-saving deals posted the special early morning on August 26, 2012. The once-in-a-lifetime deal had bargain shoppers flocking to JohnDeereGifts.com. According to comments on blogs, the site was so busy that many people were experiencing problems navigating around.
John Deere became aware of the inadmissible special in the afternoon of August 26, 2012. They posted on their Facebook page that there was a glitch on the website that gave customers the free credit (below).
John Deere also closed down their merchandise site for “routine maintenance.”
It appears as though John Deere was acting in good faith, and didn’t intend to have this deal in the first place. The company didn’t post the special online – the deal was automated through their system, which eventually got noticed by the blogosphere and was posted online (customers didn’t have to manually type in a code to get the special).
John Deere’s Facebook fans that wanted to buy merchandise are obviously upset. Of the total 121 comments made on Facebook, about half were negative comments about John Deere. Considering they have 1.3 million fans, that’s not a terrible number.
Starbucks is one of the more notable companies to have experienced the pains of internet virality as well. The popular coffee company planned to give out a free coffee for employees in Atlanta. The email mentioned to workers that they could share the coupon with others. Guess what happened!?
The coupon went viral, prompting Starbucks to end the “promotion” (if that’s what you’d like to call it). Furthermore, Caribou coffee came in and swooped up some great attention at Starbuck’s expense. Caribou decided to take one day to honor the invalid coupons that Starbucks gave out. As you can imagine, people were quite mad at Starbucks and a lot of people chose to use their coupon at Caribou.
During this event in 2006 Caribou coffee had roughly 410 locations – now the coffee shop has almost 500 locations in the United States. Whether this opportunity helped Caribou financially is unknown, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt!
A learning experience
There are a couple of things that John Deere and Starbucks did wrong. Starbucks misestimated the virality of giving away free stuff. If the coupon would have been for half-off or buy one get one, maybe the coupon does go viral but at less of an expense. Starbucks should have made the coupon available for “one day only” to avoid the huge ripple effect.
The verdict of John Deere is still up in the air. The information is recent as of the past couple days. One thing that John Deere definitely did properly was update fans about the mistake they made via Facebook. The site could have been a glitch, but John Deere should have taken the proper precautions to make sure this wouldn’t be an issue. My assumption is that there was going to be a special on merchandise commemorating the 175th anniversary, but it went live prematurely. Obviously they don’t want to give away a free $150, but I can see a deal to give fans a free $150 when you spend $150 on merchandise on their online store.
John Deere should have been more vocal via social media. The company did not post anything on their Twitter handle, and only posted once on their Facebook page about the incident. Yeah, there will be backlash online but you have to own up to your mistake. Good companies will own up to it, and follow up by offering angry customers a discount for or special for the fans that did access the deal to attempt to rekindle the original relationship they had with the company. John Deere doesn’t appear to be doing so – they are just canceling the order altogether. This is not a good tactic from a company that earned a reported $712.3 million gain in the last quarter (ending July 31, 2012).
Virality can be unbelievably good or bad depending upon how you handle it. John Deere handled the problem swiftly with action, but didn’t offer much for the coupon-hunters that got sight of the deal. Maybe we will hear more about this in the next couple of days.
What would you have done different if you were head of marketing/pr for John Deere? Do you think they have handled the situation well?
Do you have any other examples of viral coupons gone wrong?
Please comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Greg Brey is a internet marketing, social media professional at Keystone Click. During his free time, Greg enjoys watching and playing sports, causing ruckus with his yellow-lab Junior, hunting and diving into anything new or exciting. Connect with Greg today - Twitter, LinkedIn or Google Plus