Old school logic would tell you that giving away 36,000 donuts on World Diabetes Day - and then lacking the digital infrastructure to deliver that giveaway - is a marketing faux pas of massive proportions.
That’s what UberEats and Krispy Kreme did this week, when London went into meltdown causing a crisis for both brands, and for office workers lacking their “promised” free hit of sugar.
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “I’m speechless. What a desperately unthinking and stupid idea to pick World Diabetes Day to strut its sugary stuff.”
But here’s why I think the idea and execution were far from damaging to brand reputation - and what this episode teaches us about communications in 2017.
Krispy Kreme are never going to convert campaigners like the National Obesity Forum from foes to friends.
Unlike plenty of other processed food which can be made a bit healthier – it’s not really in the interest of a leading doughnut brand to push for recipe changes.
When we eat a doughnut, we know it’s bad for us, and we do it anyway.
While we can’t tell for sure that World Diabetes Day was chosen on purpose as a risqué ploy, Krispy Kreme had nothing to lose by doing so – and a lot to gain.
Counterintuitively, I bet plenty of people stuck their head in the sand at the sound of stats that were meant to jolt them into being healthier - and at news of a free doughnut just wanted one all-the-more.
If you can’t and don’t need to win someone round to your cause, there’s sometimes a case for pushing the limits of what you do.
The UberEats app couldn’t keep up with demand and it crashed.
Will that mean people are less likely to use UberEats in future? Probably not.
Does it mean people may have downloaded the app purely to get some free doughnuts? Probably yes.
Their response was perfect: “We're so sorry you didn’t get your FREE Original Glazed Dozen box. Demand was through the roof and stocks ran out. Stay tuned for more fun promotions soon!”
When you’re offering something for nothing as a way of getting consumers to engage with you, you’re winning the opportunity to reach them again and again.
Of course, best practice means that your technology should be top notch ahead of any promotion, and every website needs to be ready for Black Friday or they really will face a crisis.
But the “outrage” amongst Millennials and Generation Z led to #krispykreme trending and memes galore.
If we were ever in any doubt, it turns out Londoners loved doughnuts, and everyone talking about them makes us want them even more.
While we’d never say “no news is bad news” headlines like “Doughnut fans are disappointed they couldn’t get free doughnuts” only help makers and sellers of doughnuts.
For crisis communications experts, contact us on 0800 612 9890.