I recently read a blog post about the Domino’s Pizza mishap that resulted in 11,000 free pizzas given away to customers over a twelve-hour period. What interests me most about this promotion gone wrong isn’t the fact that a computer error resulted in pizzas inadvertently being given away for free, but that someone actually figured out the error based on sheer ingenuity (or boredom), which then spread so wide, so fast, that Domino’s was forced to take an 11,000 pizza hit.
Let’s backtrack a bit. This whole mistake came to light when someone – most likely bored, hungry and low on funds – had the idea to type “bailout” into the coupon code box when ordering a medium pizza on Dominos.com. The “bailout” code rewarded the customer with a free medium pizza. The catch – Domino’s never advertised nor publicly released a “bailout” coupon code, though they had set the promotion up in their system but abandoned it a couple of months ago. Though Domino’s had been using a bailout theme in their advertising, the code was discovered by complete mistake. No one knows how it happened, though Domino’s has come up with a theory: a college student in Cincinnati discovered the code and told a friend in Salt Lake City, or the other way around. They drew this conclusion based on the fact that restaurants near college campuses in those cities had the most orders with the “bailout” free pizza code. Regardless of how it started, word spread to nearly 11,000 people who got their free orders in before Domino’s realized their mistake and fixed it.
The Big Fat Marketing Blog makes an excellent point about the inadvertent promotion – thousands of people were drawn to Dominos.com that may have never thought to use the site to order Domino’s online before. They were drawn there from word-of-mouth spread from friend to friend and across the Internet at lightning speed. Had this promotion been planned, Domino’s could have acquired a great deal of valuable customer data as well as stats on how wide and how fast such a promotion could spread. They could test different variables – does releasing the code in a certain part of the country, or certain time of day result in more orders or a faster spread? Just what kinds of people are redeeming the code – college students, families, single people? There is a deep well of information and data that could be tapped with this type of promotion executed in a well-thought out manner.
The moral of this story? A great offer – intended or not – will attract new customers and expose them to your products and services, especially with the power of word-of-mouth and the Internet behind it. The other moral of this story? Um, people who are bored and hungry spend time on pizza chain websites trying to come up with coupon codes that will give them free pizza? I actually don’t know if there is much to learn from that point…