What we learned from Build-a-Bear's pay your age promotion

Build-a-Bear's pay your age promotion allowed parents to buy a bear, normally costing up to £52, for the price of their child's age.

Promotions can be great but they have to be planned carefully, writes Nathalie Agnew
Promotions can be great but they have to be planned carefully, writes Nathalie Agnew

However, unprecedented demand across the UK saw police called to manage crowds and the promotion pulled mid-morning.

Here are my top five things to 'bear' in mind when planning in-store promotions and offers:

Get your ducks (or bears) in a row

What sounds like a great idea in a brainstorm always needs a reality check. Think about everything that could go wrong and how you might mitigate risks. Engage with key parties early, such as taking advice from shopping centre management or the local police (who were ultimately called out across the country to deal with bear-related riots yesterday). Local store managers and staff will also have a good feel for how a promotion might work in their location and be able to provide valuable feedback.

Predict and plan for demand

Building a bear is not a fast process: you need to choose your bear, pick clothing and accessories, stuff the bear, kiss its belly and then seal it. Bring young, indecisive children into the mix and it takes even longer. The stores must be able to roughly predict the capacity in each shop per hour, so why not pre-register membership card holders who prepay for their slot and are guaranteed entry? If you really want some Apple-esque queuing images for press and social media, you could always say there are just five slots per hour for walk-ups, or similar, to communicate the limited availability but still get some queues.

Never work with children or animals

Or if you do, be very careful. The media love a sad child picture and don’t get me started on cats in tights, but if you do involve children in your campaign, consider all their needs and what could go wrong. Thousands of children across the UK were promised bears yesterday and didn’t get them, many after up to eight hours of queuing. Consider the welfare of those taking part in your promotion, e.g. if you do want queues, can you provide water and snacks? How can you make the experience more positive for those benefitting from the promotion?

Active listening is crucial

Despite queues forming from 6am, the first social media post from Build-a-Bear’s official channels wasn’t until 10.40am, and even then it was poorly phrased and blamed local authorities, rather than acknowledging that the issue sat with the management of the promotion. Build-a-Bear should have taken control via social media and used more personality and empathy within content. Acting swiftly is key to prevent the story from running away from a brand. Think KFC when they ran out of chicken.

Localise plans

From the outside, it looks like the promotion was conceived and managed from the US, which resulted in the lack of local engagement. Using local expertise may have helped to mitigate some of the risks and having local people on the ground and manning social media channels yesterday could have really helped go some way to save the situation.

Nathalie Agnew is founder and managing director of Muckle Media

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