Wednesday, May 23, 2012

When too much Spice is bad for your Brand

What a way to spice up an otherwise ordinary morning! I woke up around 6:30am to a lot of commotion in the living room. My couch surfing friend (unemployed, pre business school) was eagerly logging into the SpiceJet website for the 777 deal for their 7 year Anniversary: All flights, anywhere for Rs.777  for 77 minutes this morning starting 7am, via their website. Indians take 2 things very seriously: deals and anniversaries so when you combine the two - this was a BIG deal - very smart marketing campaign. Sadly, the site went down soon after 7 and the Twitterati wrath kicked in soon thereafter. While #spicejet trended for almost 5 hours in India, most of the comments were extremely negative. SpiceJet even extended the offer till 10am and some folks were able to get online post 8:30am and were very pleased with themselves for scoring a good deal but for the most part the brand was left was a black eye on their anniversary.

There were many interesting reactions from tweeple - many were just annoyed that they woke up early for nothing, others that compared SpiceJet to KF and AI etc. that someone with a degree in social anthropology is better placed to comment on. The tweet that really struck me though was the one from SpiceJet themselves: " ": Thank u 4 an overwhelming response & making this offer a success! Watch this space 4 more exciting offers. "

Now it could be that they needed something nice to say, so that's what they came up with. But think about it. They ran a flash deal campaign and probably sold more tickets in a single day and acquired more 1st time customers than ever before at a very low operational cost (it was online).  So in a sales review, this was a successful campaign. In an agency review, they trended for a whopping 5 hours from 7-noon and their banner click through rates were probably unprecedented. Who knows, this might even win best digital campaign of the year. After all, on paper, the black and white results make this  a best practice campaign.

But if you were experiencing all this live, you would have been a frustrated customer who refreshed 777 times because the site didn't work for you or redialed 777 times because you couldn't get through on the 1800 numbers. You would have felt enraged about the suspiciously planted positive tweets (e.g. "booked 18 tickets. Spicejet rocks.")  Or you would have been exhausted after spending 3 hours battling the site just so you could score the deal. Does all this matter? It does. Because a short term sales boost is not worth a hit to your brand - ever. And today was a black eye for SpiceJet's brand.

This is clearly a case where marketing and IT didn't partner well during the campaign planning stages to ensure they had a scalable backend to support the spike on the web and in the call center nor did they have a social media listening and response mechanism to manage or neutralize the negative sentiments effectively.  Sadly, I see this all the time in my interactions with CMOs and CIOs. A few years ago, marketing would immediately blame IT. But As LK Gupta, a fellow DesiCMO, tweeted so articulately "easy to blame IT. But the project owner, which is mktg, shd hv forecasted the site traffic and anticipated the result."

If you read my previous blogpost, this does makes the case for CEOs hiring Chief Marketing Technologists even stronger doesn't it??  :-) Do spice up my post with your comments!


  1. Absolutely agree.... well written

  2. Nice Blog Virginia!
    This incident reminds me of the website (Online Railway Reservation Website) wherein people get up early in the morning to book tatkal tickets in order to avoid long queues at the station.
    But, most of the time the site doesn’t opens or the payment transaction fails due to site overload.
    It definitely makes sense to forecast the turnout before executing anything at such a mass level.

  3. I would see it this way - the expectation amongst Indian customers on any offer, of late, has been one of extreme cynicism. We are so very used to T&C's applicable offers.

    In this case, this is what it did to me (a first time flyer with Spicejet - a) I logged on with the expectation if-am-lucky-I-will-get-it. b) Logged on 5 times at different time bands. c) On my visit at 1 pm, the offer was declared over. d) irrespective checked on the fare for Mum-hyd leg. e) Booked it since it was cheaper than cleartrip fare by Rs 150

    If I were the CMO or the CEO doing an analysis, for next years appraisal cycle, this is what I have - 38,000 bookings (+ additional bookings from the likes of people like me); and as u pointed out, a few awards too...

    Negative publicity of 5 hrs on twitter?!!! Naaaa, don't we all have short-memory span where trending changes every couple of hours... Brand equity erosion in this category where we ALL are still soooo price conscious..I will fly Spicejet irrespective of not getting the 777 offer if they offer comparatively cheaper ticket price!

    Am sure its party time at Spicejet..Ofcourse the CIO and the CMO will not be seen together ;)

    Having said this, I do 100% endorse your views stated above, but alas! who said this is a perfect world :)


    1. What a great perspective! Thank you! I definitely think your point that is category specific and this is a very price sensitive not brand conscious category. So at least they got you to the site and you bought a cheap ticket Rs 777 or not!

    2. @k2_says - Thanks Ms Sharma,

      To further build on my point - Did I rush to the nearest kirana store when the news of worms in Cadburys was spreading like wild fire? Ofcourse not! Did I panic and stopped recommending Corolla when the news that the car maker was recalling a specific car model because of a faulty motor? Yes, it did make me uneasy. But did I stay away from booking a ticket because the 777 offer bombed? Hell no! My Rs 150 was dear to me :)

      The point really is, we as marketeers cannot paint the brand building principles with one single brush. Brand building and brand affinity principles in one category need not hold true in the other category. We have to be smart, understand the category, get the pulse of the customers and adapt our strategies accordingly. Afterall we pride in 'owning' the customers, nai?

      The mistakes we brand managers tend to make is apply the FMCG brand building model in banking industry and banking models in telecom and so on...

      In this case, fully agree with Mr Gupta's comment - yes the CMO should be reprimanded(and NOT the CIO) but don't deny him/her the promotion nxt year :) I feel its a brilliant closed door strategy discussed and executed by the product manager and the marketing manager!

      Psst: A big word of caution tho - if your are a brand manager from other category, dare not try this 'stunt' :)

      Am so very looking forward to your next blog post!

  4. Sorry to say i am not standing with your view point Mr. anonymous. Spice jet had to decide before offering ticket to price sensitive category that they will get toll of 5 hour of negative trend on twitter & some more who dint share their wrath who are regular passengers & apart from it who didnt get tickets.
    We are in the age whr companies trying to be Cult brand, iconic brand, Noun Brand, Verb brand i think customer loyalty is not a word it is life.If anything is most valuable assets in account book of company is Brand name. so getting unprecedented click & fair amount of booking after scratching your brand plate is not visinory strategy. I agree ppl have short memory bt calculate the cost which ll hv to spend by cmpny fr re-owning the word in customer mind as it ws before.
    Company should use rifle instead of short gun...spice jet invested lots of tym in building expectation bt how much tym in delivering it??...spice failed to bring value to both category who use to fly & who got an offer to fly(price sensitive category) created more brand saboteurs thn brand endorser.

  5. Virginia, why don't you put a positive spin on the spicejet experience and make a lessons learnt from a CMOs point of view? You' mentioned some already in your post above.

    1. Great point Keira. I need to do a little more thinking on lessons learned. But I did read a great article this morning on Forbes on Why a Brand Matters:

      I think the DesiCMO community needs to think hard about the balance between brand management and demand generation. Revenue and lead generation pressures are always going to be there but its up to us to think holistically about our roles and go beyond quick Marcom wins. Do read my post about the evolving role of the CMO into the Chief Marketing Technologist. I think that is going to be the key to avoiding spice like snafus.

  6. Brilliant post . But agree to the point made by Anonymous author. In a market like India, where people are more price sensitive in this travel category (unless company is paying the bill :-) ), most people would still forget this site down issue and would await for the relaunch of this offer with a hope of getting lucky the next time..

  7. To give the Spice team the benefit of doubt, may be they were doing something like this for the first time and there was no way to predict the kind of traffic it would generate on their site.
    Having said this do agree with you, Virginia, on the fact that CMOs today need to be much more technologically savvy today than say a few years back. What we call them is probably only a matter of nomenclature as long as more than sound knowledge of technology is acknowledged as an essential requirement.

  8. Interesting comments on post - did u think of the plight of their PR manager, handling tweeple, media and online community with constant updates and TV scrolls and speculative stories doing the rounds. Poor fellas might be breaking their heads or just plain ignored not knowing what to comment or respond to tweets, FBB updates or TV scrolls and media queries on response to the scheme.

  9. What puzzles me is why Spice did run a discount campaign at all at this time. With KF and AI in a tailspin and airline seats in desperate short supply, there was no dearth of demand for airline seats.

    At the best of times, we are suckers for freebies and would have crashed the SpiceJet servers in search of cheap tickets. Add a supply side crunch and generally high prices and inflation to the mix and you didn't need a fancy degree to figure out that you'd have a stampede and frayed tempers.

    Granted, as Anonymous said, we put up with a lot of rubbish for price discounts. But would I as a marketer do that knowingly if my goal was to build the brand?

  10. As an addendum to my post, here is a thought on brands and their anniversaries. IBM recently completed 50 years in Sri Lanka. One of the ways we marked our 50th year was by donating KidSmart kits to the Defense Services School in Colombo and to schools in the district of Hambantota, an emerging economic hub in southern Lanka. IBM actually rolled out the KidSmart program in Sri Lanka in 2003, donating over 500 KidSmart kits to many rural schools across the country. IBM also invested in its cross cultural teams which worked with local communities and organizations in areas of strategic importance. IBMers on the island themselves have mentored over 2000 children from 16 schools. So this isn't a flash in the pan one time thing but building a tradition of partnership with the community.
    The anniversary was also a time reflect on how IBM has partnered in Sri Lanka's progress and, more importantly, to engage in a dialogue with Sri Lankan thought leaders on what else we can and should do in the future to help build a Smarter Sri Lanka. In short, an opportunity to reflect not just celebrate our past accomplishments. This article has some nice highlights about IBM in Sri Lanka over the last 50 Years:

  11. I think the number of Satisfied customers would surely be more than the number of unsatisfied ones. Fact remains that it was an offer tailormade for price sensitive Indian customers. Also a lot of people must have been prepared for the same. sadly in Indian companies IT and Marketing work like totally separate dept. However the fact is any Marketing Campaign should foresee the traffic on the website and social networking pages.

  12. Ms. Virginia Sharma, Most often these last minute brain children turn out to be terrible troublesome orphans for the customer as well as the brand - but in the short term. This has happened to many big brands too - but thankfully there was no twitter - to seek glory in the aftermath.
    K.S. Susindar

  13. In what seems like a repeat of this episode, the SpiceJet website is down since the last few hours after having launched a 3 day sale, selling all inclusive fares for Rs. 2013.
    The fact that something similar had transpired a few months back seems to indicate that the marketing/technology team co-ordination still needs to get better.

    Though again, a lot of customers got the deal and would probably be quite happy with the offer. The downside of not able to book isn't as big in comparison - some wasted time and/or failed booking(s) (which IRCTC has anyways made us habitual of) for which the money will get blocked for a few days.

    The only issue is that it could have been even bigger and more impactful with better planning.

  14. Ms.Sharma - It validates our core philosophy that managing multi-channel communication during life cycle of customer - be it Marketing, sales, support or loyalty phase is very very important by leveraging technology. Enterprise has to have their CRMs integrated with Multi-Channel Communication technologies or Platforms so that they can track all customer interactions in realtime. At the same time there are brand managers who are well prepared - may be because of the budgets at their disposal. Recently we had the opportunity to work with one of the HLL's brand managers. They floated a RFP to make sure they are backed by a technology partner before they launched their mobile radio campaign.