A few months ago, I used this space to gently ridicule Dr Pepper for a promotional stunt in which it would give a free Dr Pepper to everyone in America if Guns N' Roses released its long-delayed album, "Chinese Democracy," this year (former GNR guitarists Slash and Buckethead were excepted from the deal). Safe bet, I thought, the album had been teased for so long -- around 15 years -- it was unlikely to ever see the light of day.
But rebel that he is, Axl Rose (the only remaining original member of GNR anymore) defiantly showed the suits at Dr Pepper Snapple Group who was boss in his most inventive way yet: By actually releasing the album! Way to stick it to The Man, Axl.
Stuck, Dr Pepper had to make good on its promise. But it wasn't going to make claiming your free soda easy. As part of an extensive process, consumers had to log on to the brand's Web site (drpepper.com) and register to have a coupon for a free soda sent to them via snail mail. (Way to use the immediacy of the Internet to your advantage, D.P.) And consumers could do this only on the day of the album's release. That day was Sunday, Nov. 23.
We should know by now to never underestimate the American public's appetite for free stuff. How else can we explain old ladies pushing little children out of the way for a free sample at Costco? But someone at Dr Pepper didn't get the message. After several site problems on Sunday, the company extended the deadline by a day to accommodate for "greater than anticipated" response to the promotion. It said it added server capacity and even added a phone number to call (cleverly disguised as its general customer service line). But as the hours ticked down, the best I could get from the registration page was a "Service unavailable" response, and the phone line the company provided was busy.
"I got a busy signal and the site does not load. What kind of marketing is this?!" wrote one commenter on Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch Blog. "Gee, thanks for the empty promise, Dr Pepper," wrote another. "At least Axl put out the album when he said he would -- thanx but no thanx, Dr Pepper," wrote a third.
Man, it's got to hurt when Axl Rose is getting better press than you.
And now, what once had been a frivolous (and seemingly failsafe - really, who expected the album to ever see the light of day, let alone this year?) promotion has become a headache for the company. It's probably too early to say whether the company has done itself any lasting brand damage. It's unlikely anyone is really, truly upset about not receiving a free soda (the true Dr Pepper die-hards were buying them anyway), but it's a reasonable assumption that anyone who was burned by this promotion will recall it the next time he or she is shopping for soda. And will think twice before reaching for a Dr Pepper. I know I will.
There are several morals to this story. Don't bite off more than you can chew. Don't sip more than you can drink. But perhaps the one most marketers should take away is this: No bet is ever safe. Especially if it involves Axl Rose.