Brand competitions can be a smart way to deliver read benefits in the market place. But failure to properly assess the risk issues has the potential to produce a genuine reputation disaster.
Jeep Australia has been left licking its wounds after an online competition went terribly wrong. Their promotion was branded a scam and a fiasco, and hundreds of angry people signed up to a Facebook page calling for a class action lawsuit or were invited to formally complain to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The idea was simple enough. The competition offered people the chance to buy one of ten Jeeps being sold at just $10,000 each. All you had to do for the cut-price deal was to register via an app and phone a special number at exactly 9.00 am on Thursday, 10 July.
Launching the competition, Fiat Chrysler Australia CEO Veronica Johns had said: “We believe this is a world-first and a campaign only Jeep could pull off.” Those ambitious words should have rung alarm bells. Sure enough, it all turned to custard. The “secret” phone numbers were leaked on social media long before the appointed hour, and some of the 50,000 people who registered found out too late that the app which was supposed to provide the number to call didn’t work on tablets. And when the winners were declared within minutes, Jeep shut down the phone lines. “We thought this would indicate all the cars were gone,” they reported on Facebook. “Sorry if this confused some of you.” Really?
The social media response was swift and entirely predictable. As one commenter noted: “Jeep must be congratulated. It is a rare accomplishment indeed to be able to inflict such damage on one’s brand in such a short space of time.”
The situation was not much improved by David Lo, Chairman of the Australasian Promotional Marketing Association, who remarked that increasing reliance on technology to run competitions was creating dangers for the industry. He added unhelpfully: “Nothing is perfect. We live in an imperfect world and there will always be problems . . . The real damage here is to the brand and reputation, which is unfortunate.” It surely is unfortunate, yet the risks should have been properly assessed. And it’s not good enough to say that Jeep was “a victim of its own success.”
Competitions are a notorious source of reputational damage. Think about when Qantas launched an ill-timed competition inviting travellers to describe their “dream luxury inflight experience” and unleashed a torrent of gripes. Or when a Facebook competition organized by Nissan Australia turned sour after a car was won by a close friend of one of the staff organizing the promotion.
We don’t know yet whether a class-action law suit or an ACCC investigation of the matter will get off the ground. However, we do know that Jeep’s reputation has been damaged and they needed to be much more upfront and communicative about what happened. The company’s response on Facebook was a classic of outrageous understatement and naïve optimism. “We can see that some of you were disappointed,” they said. “We love your passion for Jeep. Stay tuned for more exciting and unique promotions and offers.” Maybe someone with some experience in issue and reputation management needs to send a friendly memo to the folks down in marketing.