To launch its new line of coffee-flavored ice cream, Starbucks is running a promotion through July 19th in which Facebook users can give a free pint of ice cream to one of their friends. At the top of every hour, Starbucks will give out 800 coupons for free ice cream via a Facebook application at http://apps.facebook.com/starbucksicecream. Facebook users cannot print a free ice cream coupon for themselves – they must send it to a friend.
Since the free ice cream coupons are gone within seconds after the start of each hour, Starbucks offers a coupon for $1.00 off of a pint of their new ice cream to people who do not grab a free pint for their friends. This way, nobody is left out of the promotion.
Learning From KFC’s Mistakes
Starbucks made three notable improvements to the Kentucky Grilled Chicken debacle two months ago:
- Never underestimate the power of free food. The KGC promotion prompted millions of people to print off coupons for a free meal. Starbucks is limiting the number of free pints of ice cream to 280,000 (800 every hour for 14 days). Still a ton of free ice cream, but not so many free pints that they go broke.
- Encourage sharing. The key to Starbuck’s promotion is that it allows you to hook your friends up with free ice cream. That’s fun and worth talking about. You’re not serving yourself – you’re serving others.
- Stay away from Oprah if you're not ready for her power. The free KGC giveaway was announced on Oprah’s show and that made the promotion more popular than KFC executives would have ever imagined. Starbucks is staying away from Oprah and promoting its free ice cream giveaway online. Oprah can catapult a brand to new heights (like she did for the Kindle), but she can also cause a brand to crash and burn when brand executives underestimate her power.
Starbucks has done a lot of things right with this promotion: They’ve encouraged people to share free ice cream with their friends, they’ve limited the number of free pints, and they’ve included a coupon for folks who don’t get the freebies.
The point of this promotion is to share free ice cream with your friends and to get people talking about the new Starbucks ice cream. Instead of giving a $1.00 off coupon to people who don’t snag a free pint, Starbucks should have made the coupon a buy-one-get-one-free coupon so that people can buy a pint for themselves and share one with their friend. That would take the idea of hooking up your friends with free ice cream beyond the 800 lucky Facebook users every hour and extended the promotion to millions more.
Add This to Your To-Do List
The Starbucks promotion teaches us to learn from past mistakes – whether they’re our own mistakes or others’. Marketing is a delicate balance between experimenting with new ideas and turning to methods that have proven to be successful in the past. When a marketing idea doesn’t produce the results that you expected, that idea isn’t necessarily a bad one. Maybe the execution was just handled poorly. Don’t get rid of the idea completely when all you may need to do is tweak the execution of the idea a bit next time.
There’s never a lack of ideas.