Growing up, did you have a special teddy bear or stuffed animal? I remember one of my first stuffed animals was a teddy bear gifted to me from my mom. It was the perfect size, sat up on its own, and was covered with the softest brown fur. Now more than 20 years later, I still have that bear. She survived trips back and forth to college, moving, and even getting a dog who has an affinity for stuffed creatures. Her fur isn’t nearly as soft anymore, her eyes have become dull, there’s a chip in her nose, and while she doesn’t adorn my bed anymore she sits on my dresser as a reminder of my childhood and as a bit of a security blanket as I move through my adult life. While my bear wasn’t a Build-A-Bear, I felt that little bit of magic that Build-A-Bear aims to bring into this world on the day that I got her.
Build-A-Bear Workshop was founded in 1997 by Maxine Clark. In case you aren’t familiar with Build-A-Bear, it is a teddy-bear themed retail experience where children (and adults) can pick out their own stuffed animal, watch it be stuffed, put a “heart” in it, and dress it in various outfits. Just the stuffed animal alone can range anywhere from $6 for a 5 inch mini stuffed animal to $75 for a 36 inch jumbo stuffed friend. Now you might be starting to see why the Pay Your Age promotion was so popular.
Build-A-Bear created their Pay Your Age promotion to draw awareness to their Count Your Candles offer. The Count Your Candles offer allows children 14 and under to pay their age for the special Birthday Treat Bear during their birthday month. The Pay Your Age Promotion was an expansion of this program for one day only. This promotion allowed a child to pay their age for almost any furry friend in the store. Prices ranged from $1, for expectant mothers and children 1 and under, to $29, for the kid at heart. As long as someone 18 and older in the party was a member of the Build-A-Bear Bonus Club, the deal would apply to any member of the party who wanted to partake in the special. Have 2 kids and still have your eye on a special bear for yourself? You’d pay their ages plus $29 for your bear. Pretty exciting for a bear that could easily exceed $50.
This is where things started to go south. Build-A-Bear claims they underestimated the amount of interest the promotion was going to get, but if social media was any prediction of the way things were going to go, Build-A-Bear should have sensed trouble coming and made a backup plan. One of Build-A-Bear’s original Facebook Posts announcing the Pay Your Age promotion received about 111K comments, 191K Shares, and 37K Reactions. One of the original Tweets announcing the promotion was not nearly as impressive but above average for Build-A-Bear, with 486 comments, 1.5K Retweets, and 3.9K Likes. For a company who normally gets under 50 Likes on a Tweet and under 1,000 Reactions on a Facebook posts, this kind of attention should have started setting off alarm bells.
If social media wasn’t enough of a prediction, Build-A-Bear could have turned to Black Friday and Nutella Riots in France to give them an idea of just how excited people get for a good deal. As the Marketing Director at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Gemma Butler, said, “This was an ill thought-out and unprofessional promotional execution, one that not only risks their own brand reputation, but has the potential to bring the wider marketing sector into disrepute.”
Everyone wants a Build-A-Bear
On the afternoon of July 11th, just a few short hours before the Pay Your Age Madness began, Build-A-Bear may have started to see the error of their ways. They issued statements on both Facebook and Twitter stating:
“Thank you for the unprecedented response over the last 24 hours to our Pay Your Age Day event! As a result, we want to let you know that we are anticipating the potential of long lines and wait times. We will make every effort to help as many Guests as possible participate in this first-time event”…”We sincerely appreciate the incredible interest and heartfelt excitement and want to thank everyone in advance for your patience.
Keep in mind, our new Count Your Candles program is available to Bonus Club members all year long and allows children under 14 to pay their age for our special Birthday Treat Bear during the month of their birthday.”
However, this still didn’t seem to warn them that the lines would be chaotic. Build-A-Bear had to close lines for their Pay Your Age Day Event at 8 AM Pacific, before many stores on the West Coast had even opened for the day. This quickly started the wave of disappointment and tears that would continue throughout the day. By mid-morning people were beginning to be turned away. While some were offered $15 off vouchers others were given nothing.
Yesterday afternoon, Build-A-Bear finally uncovered their eyes, issued a public relations statement regarding their failed promotion, and tried to make things right. They issued the following statement across social media and on their website.
ST. LOUIS – July 12, 2018 – Build-A-Bear Workshop’s Pay Your Age Day event generated an overwhelming response, resulting in long lines, extensive waits and disappointed Guests. We feel it is important to share that, based on the information available to us before the day began, we could not have predicted this reaction to our Pay Your Age Day event. We understand that many Guests were turned away as, due to safety concerns created by the crowds, authorities in certain locations closed Build-A-Bear stores and, in other locations, we were forced to limit the line. Unfortunately, given these circumstances, we were unable to serve all of our Guests for the Pay Your Age Day event.
In response, we distributed vouchers to Guests, who were present in lines, to be redeemed for a future purchase. We are now making vouchers available to our Build-A-Bear Bonus Club members in the U.S. and Canada who log into their account by midnight on July 15, 2018. Vouchers related to this event will be honored through August 31, 2018.
It is our sincere desire for all of our Guests to enjoy the best Build-A-Bear experience possible. As such, our goal with the voucher extension is to enable us to better flow traffic to the stores over the next several weeks to avoid long lines and wait times as much as possible. Therefore, we strongly encourage Guests to consider delaying their trip to Build-A-Bear, and we appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience in this matter.
Build-A-Bear Workshop takes seriously the privilege of providing our valued Guests with an opportunity to make a furry friend. It is with that spirit that we created our Pay Your Age Day event and the new, year-long Count Your Candles birthday program, where kids 14 and under can “pay their age” for our new Birthday Treat Bear during their birthday month.
Thank you for your passion and continued support.
While their statement was well written it was greatly lacking. Everyone was able to predict that the reaction to the Pay Your Age promotion was going to be overwhelming. One did not need to have marketing or retail experience to know that a discount of this magnitude would encourage insane crowds, fighting, and general chaos. If the average human could predict this kind of chaos, why couldn’t Build-A-Bear?
Build-A-Bear did issue a coupon just like they said they would. The coupon is only valid for Bonus Club members, does offer $15 off certain furry friends, and is good July 13th through August 31st. However, there is a major problem. The disclaimer says, “Limit one coupon per Bonus Club membership account. Limit one coupon per transaction.” That’s a major change from the Pay Your Age Event. Remember our family, the one with 2 kids and the adult wanting a bear of their own. Well, bad news for them- only one of their little angels will be getting the $15 OFF their Furry-Friend. While the parent, could simply use 3 different email address so all members of their family could use the coupon, that’s 3 different Build-A-Bear Bonus Club accounts and a lot of juggling. The discount also doesn’t come close to the discount that could have been obtained during the Pay Your Age Day event.
The day after the failed Pay Your Age Event, the CEO of Build-A-Bear, Sharon Price John, apologized on the Today show. While John does apologize for the failed event and admits they wanted to “increase accessibility for kids to make their own Furry Friend and take it home.” Numerous times during the interview, John claims “There was no way for us to have estimated the kind of impact, those kind of crowds. It far surpassed anything we ever could’ve known.”
That’s a problem. This situation was easy to predict. It was easy to predict that chaos was going to come from discounts this steep. It was easy to see that Build-A-Bear was not going to be able to meet the demands of this event. While everyone else was able to see this coming, Build-A-Bear was seemingly unable to put two and two together and make the connection. Whatever the reason, their ignorance to audience response to their Pay You Age Event is inexcusable.
While John’s apology does seem heartfelt, it’s not enough to make up for their naïve lack of knowledge and the way they handled this chaos. They took what they claim is “the most fun you’ll ever make” and turned it into a disastrous event that as one little boy in New York said “was not worth it!”
While the Pay Your Age Day event did have the possibility to make Build-A-Bear more accessible to children and families of all walks of life, the attention that a discount of this magnitude receives is always intense. Build-A-Bear could have done a number of things differently. Some ways they could have changed their event to make it a success are:
Build-A-Bear could have also done their research to see that this event was going to be chaotic. Almost anyone who has ever been out in public would have been able to predict the chaos from an event like this.
Build-A-Bear has made their den and now they need to sleep in it. They need to understand that what they did was wrong and ignorance is not a good enough excuse. Internally, they need to reexamine their teams and processes to make sure any event the attempt to host in the future is properly thought out and the crowd size is correctly estimated. Externally, Build-A-Bear needs to but the magic back in the Teddy Bear experience. They disappointed a lot of families and a single $15 off coupon will not suffice in restoring that level of trust.
Brands love product placements. The perfect product placement can do wonders for introducing a new audience to brand or gain a brand new attention. One famous example of this is the relationship between Hershey and ET. When Mars passed on the chance to have M&Ms featured in the film, the path was cleared for Hershey and Reese’s Pieces. Within two weeks of the film’s release, Reese’s Pieces sales tripled. But what happens when a brand doesn’t ask for a product placement and that placement kills a beloved TV character? Crock-Pot recently found out when one of their devices was the cause of the fire that killed American’s most beloved father, Jack Pearson, on This Is Us.
This Is Us became America’s new favorite TV show in September of 2016. With emotional twists to rival those in Shondaland (Grey’s Anatomy and How To Get Away With Murder) and the lovable likeness of Parenthood, Americans fell in love with the Pearson family and the show that followed them on the journey of life. It was revealed in the first season that Jack Pearson, the father, had passed away tragically before the Pearson children went away to college and that his absence greatly impacted them years later. Through flashbacks, viewers got a sense of who Jack was and began to fall more and more in love with the character. As season 1 continued, Americans became more and more curious about how the beloved father met his demise.
Americans got their answer on January 23rd, 2018. Viewers watched as Jack went about cleaning the kitchen, turned off the Crock-Pot, tidied up the rest of the home, turned off the light in the living room, said goodnight to the dog, and threw a red towel up against the Crock-Pot. After turning out the lights and going to bed, viewers see the day the Pearsons’ were gifted the Crock-Pot and the original owner telling them about the wonky switch. It is only then that viewers watched in horror as the Pearson family home catches fire as the family sleeps on, unaware that anything is amiss.
Backlash for Crock-Pot began swiftly after the episode as Crock-Pot owners reached for their Crock-Pots to deposit them safely in the trash. Backlash continued on social media flooding both Twitter and Facebook with messages about #JusticeForJack and promises to never use their Crock-Pot again.
Crock-Pot acted quickly to attempt to put out the firestorm around them and their beloved slow cookers. Previously not on Twitter, Crock-Pot created the Twitter handle @crockpotcares to respond to frightened Crock-Pot owners and those placing blame on the company for killing off their favorite character. They began using hashtags like #TrustTheCrock and #CrockPotIsInnocent to help dispel fear and garner support for the brand. Dan Fogelman, writer and producer for This Is Us, even took to Twitter to remind fans of the show that “it was a 20 year old fictional crockpot with an already funky switch”.
On Facebook, Crock-Pot continued to respond to comments from scared Crock-Pot users to help assure them that the trusted Crock-Pot they had been using was perfectly safe. Crock-Pot also responded thanking dedicated Crock-Pot fans for their continued support. While some responses were the same, they tried to personalize each message and tied in something about This Is Us and Jack Pearson to try to connect with scared fans. Crock-Pot issued a statement January 25th on Facebook two days after the episode aired to try to stop the spread of the Crock-Pot disaster and reassure fans that Crock-Pots were safe to use.
The faulty Crock-Pot was a shock to many This Is Us fans and an even bigger shock to Crock-Pot. From their first response to a negative review, it is clear Crock-Pot was unware of the firestorm headed their way and were innocently sleeping while social media went into a frenzy. When they awoke from their peaceful slumber they took action to attempt to put out the firestorm directed at them. Crock-Pot was quick to get themselves on Twitter and replied to a handful of Tweets directed at their brand. They continued this strategy mainly on Facebook where they had more of an established presence and were better equipped to handle the amount of fallout coming their way.
While Crock-Pot did a great job quickly handling an unforeseen situation, they could have responded quicker and more efficiently if they had had the right tools in their arsenal from the start. Having software that listens for brand name mentions can help quickly identify references and let the responsible party respond quickly through one platform. Some programs even offer suggested responses that can help speed up response time and give the person managing social media something to work with.
Crock-Pot still needs to stay on their toes as another wave of Crock-Pot-hating could be on the way when the next episode airs after the Big Game. Good Luck Crock-Pot. We hope you use more than just Facebook in the future.
Updated Mar. 2021
When faced with a tragedy, we are often left with a loss of words. We feel like we need to say something but we just can’t come up with the right sentiment. That’s where the phrase, “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims…” comes into play. Celebrities, news outlets, companies, individuals, and even the Commander-in-Chief use this phrase any time tragedy strikes. So what should you do when making a statement after a tragedy.
The over-use of the phrase, “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims” has left it devoid of emotion or impact and has turned it into the canned response attached to tragedies. It has no meaning or attachment to the tragedy at hand; it is merely something to be said. Make no mistake: the statement you make after a tragedy is part of your marketing because it is part of the humanity of your brand. Look at this example from Kroger after a mass shooting in Boulder, CO left 10 dead, including a police officer. It says nothing about pay for displaced workers, how they will “support our associates, customers, and first responders”, or political action. It could accurately be called a bare bones message.
Think of the last time you lost someone you loved. You probably heard the words, “we’re sorry for your loss” or “they’re in a better place” over and over. These two phrases have lost the heart of their meaning. They comfort the person saying them but do little to comfort those who are left trying to deal with the loss or tragedy.
In times of tragedy your thoughts and prayers may really be with the victims. You may be thinking about them, you may have a personal connection to them, you may even be praying for them. But your copywriting matters now more than ever. The English language is a vast one, and there are countless other things that can be said instead of the same canned phrase that everyone else is saying. Crafting a statement that is unique to your business makes what you have to say more heartfelt and believable. It also shows that you took the time to really think about what you had to say and didn’t just prattle off some standard response.
On Sunday, October 1st, tragedy struck the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. The unthinkable acts of one man caused the largest mass shooting in modern history. There have been many statements of love and support for those who were impacted by this great tragedy. One statement in particular stood apart from the rest. On October 3rd, the festival organizers issued their statement about the deadly event:
“On behalf of the entire Route 91 Harvest Family, we are completely devastated by the event that occurred last night.
Our deepest sympathies go out to the injured and the deceased and their loved ones. Senseless violence has claimed the souls of our fans and we have little in the way of answers.
Our eternal gratitude goes out to the LVMPD, Emergency services, security guards, and fans for their selfless acts of bravery while trying to help those in need.
While we will try and move forward, we will never forget this day.
We will NOT let hate win over LOVE.
We will NOT be defeated by senseless violence.
We WILL persevere, and honor the souls that were lost.
Because it matters.
– BOC/Route 91 Harvest”
Another company that crafted a heartfelt statement is LiveNation, the promoter behind Route 91 Harvest. Their statement is as follows:
We are heartbroken over the tragedy that took place at the Route 91 Harvest festival. To think that anyone would want to inflict harm on a gathering of music lovers is beyond our comprehension.
And while we are stunned and grieving over this incomprehensible act of violence, we know that this is a moment when we must come together to prevent more tragedies like this from occurring.
Live Nation will do everything in our power to support the victims and their families through the aftermath of this horrendous event and extends our deepest gratitude to the heroic first responders who helped save as many lives as possible. To our Live Nation on-site employees, we cannot thank you enough for your bravery and perseverance over the past 24 hours and will ensure you have the resources and support necessary to heal from this.
In both cases, these companies took the time to write statements that truly reflected their brands. They gathered their thoughts surrounding this senseless tragedy and crafted something beautiful. They honored those lost, those injured, and the brave men and women who acted heroically to help those in need. Nothing about their statements feel forced or canned. These were not prewritten statements waiting in a folder somewhere to be used, these are statements filled with heart and meaning.
Speak the truth. If you or your business has a personal connection to the tragedy, it’s usually okay to talk about that. Your audience will most likely value an open and honest description about how you and your employees are feeling.
What will you do? Many times companies will take action in light of a tragedy. Will you be hosting a blood drive in your parking lot, volunteering your time, donating teddy bears to younger victims? If you are thinking of hosting some sort of event to benefit the victims, now is a great time to share. We’ve all heard that actions speak louder than words. Sharing what you’re planning on doing shows action and a drive to help those affected by the tragedy. You should also take whatever time is necessary to ensure the effort will actually benefit victims. Donate to reputable organizations and make sure the donation is usable in a reasonable time frame.
Say nothing. As a child, we were all told, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.” The same principle applies here. If you can’t think of something meaningful to add to the conversation – don’t say anything. In times of tragedy, the conversation is already packed with statements and news articles pertaining to the events surrounding the tragedy. If you weren’t directly involved, it is completely okay to keep silent if you don’t have anything meaningful to add. If you were directly involved, a timely statement is necessary and it should also be heartfelt. Taking a moment to pause before immediately addressing your stakeholders will ensure that you’ve collected your thoughts and are prepared to present a statement that shows consideration and thought which will ultimate showcase the heart of you or your business.
Contact our office to learn more about our consultation, copywriting, or full-service crisis management capabilities. We can help your organization in a wide variety of capacities including press conferences, speech drafting, employee training, and customer communication.