eBay’s Holiday Contest SNAFU a lesson for all eMarketers

Guest Post:  This post was contributed by Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject of MBA admissions. She invites your feedback at kellykilpatrick24 at gmail dot com.

In the TechCrunch article (12/4) “eBay Holiday Contest Overrun By Automated Scripts, Honest Users Disgruntled,” it would seem the Internet behemoth messed up on its latest promotional effort, a holiday contest that was supposed to allow users of eBay to find valuable items in various listings for merely $1.

“E-commerce juggernaut eBay is under fire because of a holiday giveaway contest gone awry. On Tuesday 25 November, eBay announced its $1 Holiday Doorbusters deals promotion, giving away 100 gifts ranging from jewelry, clothing, digital cameras, GPS devices to a brand-new Chevrolet Corvette for a $1 fixed price on a daily basis. The only catch is that there’s no announcement on when these items are released or in which category they will be in.

But cheaters came up with a clever way of winning deals on an automated basis by running scripts to continuously bid on items for $1. That way, they’re gaming the system and winning hundreds of auctions before the items are even available to the public.”

Not the desired outcome for eBay and a serious black eye to the brand integrity of an organization so committed to keeping things honest on its site.

So, what’s the lesson I mentioned for eMarketers here? Well, it’s the lesson we all know but commonly ignore: the devil is in the details.

Here are some tips for anyone planning an e-promotion:

  1. Take a look at who’s done a promotion similar to yours and see what they did well and where they may have misstepped. Learn from the mistakes of others (i.e. eBay!).
  2. Be sure you officially announce your promotion to the public (both via press release and your Web site) with plenty of notice (several weeks) to ensure fairness for all who want to participate.
  3. Review, review, review. Run it through your marketing team, legal, PR – everyone to make sure you haven’t forgotten any important details, and let them all tear it apart. It’s time-consuming and painful but the input is helpful. Have someone review it externally as well. It can be hard to see mistakes in copy you’ve been staring at forever.
  4. If you sense any sort of shenanigans with the promotion/contest once it starts, discontinue it immediately and be honest with your audience. They’ll respect your integrity.
  5. If nothing goes wrong, be sure and keep site visitors informed about the contest results. People are wary of contests online and often think it’s nothing more than a ploy to generate traffic and incremental business.

Online promotions and contests are a great way to drive traffic and build awareness. You just need to make sure you’ve done everything you can to make it a good experience and so anyone who wants to participate gets a fair shake.

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5 Responses to eBay’s Holiday Contest SNAFU a lesson for all eMarketers

  1. Robby Wells says:

    I would add an additonal tip:

    6. Maintain and leverage an understanding of the way all users interact with your site, and specifically, the ways that your site can be manipulated by outside technology.

    This latest issue could perhaps be a classic example of two departments not communicating effectively. ebay has a history of policing third party software that engages the site, so I would imagine there is a whole department of people that could have told the marketing/promo folks that this would have happened.

    Personally, I learn all my lessons the hard way, so it is nice to see it happens to the big guys too 🙂

  2. Andrea Hill says:

    Reminds me of the VSPink “Nominate your school” contest, which got gamed by MIT students.

    I’m torn: is any publicity good publicity?


  3. Robby Wells says:

    In this case, I think this publicity will unfortunately make ‘Joe the Ebayer’ suspect of any promotion that is even remotely similar, meaning if feels easily manipulated. This contest itself was a big buzz driver in the ebay community, so duplicating that buzz with a similar style promotion will surely force ebay to regain the confidence of those they were targeting with the promotion. Call it – damage control and subsequent prevention. I say 2 years. We won’t see anything similar for 2 years.

  4. Another great way to promote any product or servive is submitting articles its very common these days for bloggers to use articles from article directorys to ad content to their blogs. With a little effort and time its easy to get your webpages and your blog on some top ten search enine rankings using this method.

  5. I read about this snafu and have to say that it’s almost impossible to stop gaming of sweepstakes. Studying all of the past sweepstakes always helps, but since the newest and “sweepstakes first” area always fun, it’s hard to study the past.

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