Consumer promotions are a great way to get your audience engaged with your brand, increase sales or support a bigger brand campaign, but they can be fraught with danger if not handled correctly. About a decade ago, I used to run a pretty successful promotions agency that focussed solely on trade and retail activation programs, or in layman’s terms ‘Buy this, get that’ in-store promotions. I have continued to work with promotions as a marketing communications tactic and love to keep an eye on what is going on in this field, which I was my ears pricked up this week when I heard about the Jeep Australia dealer promotion. What should have been a great initiative to support dealers and reward customers has ended in Jeep Australia copping a deluge of backlash on Facebook and promotion forums, including threats of legal action, over what consumer’s feel is a scam promotion. I am not going to go into the minutiae of the promotion, you can read all about it here, but it has inspired me to pull together my top 5 tips to managing a successful consumer promotion.

1. Keep it simple

Consumer promotions should be simplistic in their execution and involve as few steps as possible. This makes it easy for both the consumer to engage with and the promoter to implement. Rolling out promotions that require multiple steps for the consumer to fulfil and the promoter to manage increases the chance of two things, consumer drop off due to the ‘too hard’ factor and room for error in step fulfilment. If the promotion mechanic is complicated or takes too long to explain, chances are it’s not simple enough, take the time to look at ways of simplifying it.

2. Think like the consumer

So you think you have come up with the world’s best promotion and the rest of the business agree. What you have to do before you go any further with its development is think like a consumer and look for all the loopholes. There are consumers out there that will look to hack or rort promotions for their benefit. You may think that they are not your consumers but chances are there will be a small percentage of dubious characters purchasing your product. Furthermore, promotions generally attract people outside your standard target audience, particularly if it’s an unbelievable prize opportunity – which in all honesty is usually one of the objectives you will set for a promo. I have seen pretty much every trick in the book when it comes to rorting promotions and as part of our post analysis on the success of a promotion we would capture all the illegal or immoral activity we had encountered in our key learnings. This information would then form part of our brainstorming and workshopping for the next promotion.

3. Factor in time-zones

This is particularly relevant for the closing dates and times of promotions and is even more critical now that social media and apps are the platform of choice for so many promotions. Back in the day snail mail entries that needed to be postmarked or received by a certain time or entries placed in a physical entry box in store made management of this quite simple. Technology has changed this and in this day and age you need to ensure you can control the technology to ensure fairness for all. On central database platforms such as websites, this is fairly straight forward as the time is managed by the website so if entries close at midnight, the entry form on the website can be deactivated for midnight (be sure to spell out what time-zone the midnight you are talking about falls in). But with app based promotions, things can be a little murkier if this isn’t factored into the build.

This appears to be another of the issues with the Jeep promotion. The key component of the promotion was the receipt of a special phone number to call to be in the running to win, the number would be sent to all those that downloaded the promotional app at the same time, from the feedback on whirlpool and the Facebook page set up for disgruntled consumers, the app used the time from the device it was installed on, not a central database clock. What does this mean, well if my smartphone clock is set 5 minutes faster than anyone else’s, I would get the phone number 5 minutes before anyone else?

4. Make sure the Terms & Conditions are watertight

This point cannot be stressed enough. The money you spend on getting terms and conditions done by a legal professional will save you thousands, if not tens of thousands should something go wrong. Terms and conditions cover you for a multitude of issues including fraudulent activity by consumers, technical failure, hacking, inability to deliver the promotion as advertised (Jeep had this covered they should’ve used it and re-run the promotion) and claims by disgruntled entrants. If the promotion you are running is a game of skill and does not fall under the various State regulatory bodies still invest in getting the terms and conditions legally checked. There are specialist lawyers who offer these services, use them.

5. Make sure it can be fulfilled

This might sound basic, but I have seen retail sales promotions such as buy one get one free or cash back offers become so successful the promoters have run out of stock or budget to continue. The fundamental error lay in bad planning and management, incomplete terms and conditions or lazy implementation. The result of this is many disgruntled consumers who either have to wait a long time for prize fulfilment or are left extremely disappointed and empty-handed. Always budget for a promotion with contingency to allow for runaway successes, otherwise cap it and do your homework so you understand how promotions similar to yours have run in the past. This can be as simple as asking retailers for feedback before you implement it or hunting down information on competitor promotions.