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In a city like London, ‘free’ and ‘food’ is a combination that rarely fails marketers. That’s why companies from KFC to Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) have regularly resorted to giving away freebies. Only last month, GBK handed out free burgers. And in August, the London-based pizza chain Voodoo Ray’s gave customers free slices at its Camden branch to mark turning one year old.

It’s a time-tested tactic to generate publicity, and very much in line with ‘The Law of Giving and Selling’, a theory championed by viral marketing pioneer Dr. Ralph F Wilson back in 2000. He stated that you can generate interest in a product by making it cheap. But if you want attention faster, give it away for free. If all goes well, you can guarantee a boost in sales and customer loyalty.

The key, of course, is ensuring that all does go well.

Last Tuesday (November 14th), Krispy Kreme UK created a buzz when it announced plans to hand out 36,000 doughnuts in London to celebrate its new partnership with food delivery app UberEATS. On the surface, it had the hallmarks of a brilliant idea. No ‘dough’ would be required; not even a delivery fee from Uber. And, to make it even better, the chain would be flogging them by the dozen: a free box of doughnuts for anyone quick enough to log an order on the app from 2pm.

I wish I could say Southerly HQ was one of the lucky offices to get its paws on such a delicious deal. For all our determined efforts, UberEATS buckled under the demand. Not only did our nearest Krispy Kreme restaurant disappear from the app entirely, but when we did manage to bag a box, our order was cancelled 15 minutes later. Cue a range of hilarious and snarky complaints on Twitter:

Now, it’s fair to say consumers were angry – and rightfully so. It’s a cardinal sin in marketing to promise something you can’t deliver. Yet it begs the question: was this an epic fail or masterful marketing? The campaign managed to secure coverage in publications such as the Evening Standard and Time Out in advance, and during the fiasco, the doughnut company ended up trending for a few hours on Twitter. And while many Londoners didn’t get their Krispy Kreme fix that day, at least it provided a teachable moment to consider the next time you’re planning a content marketing campaign:

1. Do keep your content marketing messages consistent

Before the deliveries kicked off, Krispy Kreme emailed its customers to fill them in on the giveaway. But it failed to point out that the promotion was only happening in Central London. The company later apologised on Twitter, which led to more complaints. Consistent messaging on all platforms is crucial for any worthwhile content marketing campaign, to avoid tarnishing your reputation if nothing else.

2. Dont forget, timing is everything

Was it a coincidence that Krispy Kreme launched its giveaway on World Diabetes Day? The company later admitted on Twitter that its timing might have been in poor taste. However, there’s something to be said about scheduling your campaign in a way that’ll make it most memorable ­– but associating your product with a problematic health condition may not be the best way to do it.

3. Do have a plan B

Between Krispy Kreme and UberEATS, it’s hard to tell which marketing head will roll at the campaign evaluation meeting. Considering UberEATS was responsible for the logistics in delivering the doughnuts, I suspect the latter. A marketing campaign is nothing without a backup plan in case things go wrong, because there are way too many variables – from the stakeholders involved to the actual technology being used. Get that right and you’ve won half the battle in getting your message there.

In fairness, UberEATS did contact its customers a week later to offer another box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for free. This time, distribution would occur over five days, instead of one, which leads nicely to my next point…

4. Dont be a hero

Dishing out 36,000 of anything for free, never mind donuts, is an impressive number. Naturally, this meant the campaign created plenty of hype. But, then again, so would 5,000 doughnuts. Or even 1,000. Arguably, free is free, no matter the amount, so did the offer need to be so extravagant?

When restaurant chain Byron celebrated its tenth birthday by dishing out 3,000 free chicken burgers and beers across the country in 2016, there were a couple of caveats. Firstly, the offer was across multiple cities, rather than just one. Secondly, there was a complimentary competition for those that missed out on the main promotion, which involved winning one of 200 free burgers.

There’s nothing wrong with a campaign being ambitious, but setting a realistic precedent means you can naturally evolve and develop bigger and better ideas.

5. Do create great contentbut keep your channels up to date

To Krispy Kreme’s credit, the company created a lovely variety of assets to support its campaign, targeted at office workers in London ­– a demographic it has focused on since launching in the UK in 2003. Marketing materials included a fun animated video, a mailer, and an illustration for its social channels. All of this was intended to supplement a successful campaign, but it’s always worth having even more lovely content on standby should things go south.

It’s also worth noting that if you are relying on digital channels for your campaign, make sure they’re all being used regularly. Krispy Kreme relied on its Twitter and Facebook feed to send apologies, which makes perfect sense. There was, however, a failure to use the company’s dedicated press room or blog – and it doesn’t help that neither channel has been updated since 2015.

Great content only works when all distribution channels are aligned, so if you’re not using something, lose it. If you are, remember it’s as integral to your content marketing as the product or service you’re promoting. More importantly, it can go some way to making the campaign quite sweet – much like a free glazed doughnut.