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Where’s My Dr Pepper?

I was all ready to bang out an extremely complimentary post on Sunday night for Dr Pepper. If you hadn’t heard, Dr Pepper is offering a coupon for a free single-service bottle on November 23 only. In fact, as I type this, there are less than three hours remaining on its offer countdown clock. Alas, a fun and rewarding opportunity is going down in flames, as Dr Pepper can’t process the offer on its servers. It’s a lesson for all of us to nail the basics and prepare for the best to happen.

This isn’t just another free sampling program for Dr Pepper. It’s actually the culmination of a very unique and successful buzz marketing campaign. It started back in March 2008, when a blog appeared out of the ether and promised to give a free Dr Pepper to everyone in the country if the long-delayed Guns N’ Roses album, Chinese Democracy, would be released before the end of the year. It wasn’t clearly an official Dr Pepper marketing effort, but the buzz built and people started anticipating a big payout by the marketing team. Sure enough, in October the band announced that the finished album would hit in November, and the blogosphere wondered if Dr Pepper would make good on its promise.

Dr Pepper could sure use the buzz. The brand continues to fade from the soda scene—both due to the continued growth of Pepsi and Coke franchises, along with the rise of new upstarts such as Red Bull and Monster. The TV advertising is using long-retired basketball legend Dr. J in its TV advertising now, which isn’t helping much.

So here, into the laps of the marketing team, drops the culmination of a very successful, low-cost buzz campaign—a campaign that has attracted the young, connected generation that all soda brands covet.  There are more than 100,000 Google results for “chinese democracy dr. pepper” and seven of the top 10 Google search trends are related to this payoff. The coupon sign-up sheet allowed a great chance to harvest the email addresses of new brand fans. The brand team should be high-fiving right now. All it had to do was fulfill its promise and get the free soda coupons into our thankful hands.

But here we are, less than three hours remaining, and the Dr Pepper server is down—overloaded by the vast numbers of people who want to have a free soda. The brand had eight months to prepare for the possibility of having to deliver on its promise. Sure, it’s less than the more than a decade Axl Rose took to prepare his album, but c’mon, guys—you gotta deliver! The blogosphere is already starting to react negatively. This could be this week’s Motrin-like storm.

It probably isn’t a total lost cause for Dr Pepper. Lots of people will get their drinks, and many people will just forget about this unfilled offer by tomorrow morning. Maybe the marketing team will reopen or extend the offer. I would hate for other marketers to look at this as a complete failure and be discouraged to take future risks. Rather, we should all take this as a lesson for our future efforts: Plan for enormous success—after all, you just might reach it.

UPDATE 1: Check the site today and you will find one of the saddest website messages ever witnessed, nearly mocking the visitor with the unproofread line: “Thanks for visiting Dr Pepper site.”

UPDATE 2: Now Axl Rose is responding on behalf of angry fans with a set of demands through his lawyer, including a call for a full-page apology ad in several national newspapers and a re-opening of the free soda offer.  Essentially, Axl’s beef is that his band went along with the promotion in good fun, despite the fact that the band didn’t get paid for it; but when Dr Pepper violated its promise, the band is no longer willing to go with this rights infringement.  Advertising Age also quotes word-of-mouth marketing agency leader, Ted Wright, who makes a good point: “Nobody is really mad about an 89-cent [soda].  They just wanted to be part of the fun, and they took all the fun out of it.”

5 Responses to “Where’s My Dr Pepper?”

  1. As you said — much like I said in my initial post, as well as the follow-up, about the server failure on the topic — if you are going to do something like this, you really need to have a solid, knowledgeable team do all the prep work, such as server load balancing, server/traffic handoff (Akami comes to mind quickly, which is used by many sites to handle excess traffic which would normally cause sites and servers to crash), among other issues.

    Planning is always the critical step. Without adequate planning for all contingences — whether in the military sector, civilian sector, or the online sector — things will get botched and you will have egg on your face.

    Once the egg is on your face, though, it’s how you handle the situation as far as wiping it off. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how Dr Pepper (for the brand, there hasn’t been a period after the word “Dr” in many decades) and Snapple handle this situation.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Good news: They’ve extended the deadline, probably because of this very blog post. ; )

    It now runs through 6 PM EST.

    Bad news: the server still has some issues because it hangs when you try to register.

    Still a disaster apparently.

  3. Charles says:

    I’m slightly upset that I didn’t know today was the day for the free Dr.Pepper. They should have informed everyone in a tv ad about the bet and that Nov 23rd was the big day instead of airing the Dr. J commercial.

  4. Bob says:

    Yeah, here’s an idea – pull the Dr. J ads and run the program for an entire month, no, the rest of the year. The PR would be huge, consumers would re-engage with this failing brand, and the real cost would be less than buck per redeemed coupon.

  5. Erik says:

    This thing is way out of control. One brand’s failure is so great that it’s affecting another brand and making Axl Rose look like a victim. So much for any publicity being better than no publicity.

    Maybe Dr Pepper will end up doing the “right” thing after all–the threat of litigation probably means releasing the product to make the problem go away so they don’t have to pay out of pocket, right?

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