No Good Deed Goes Unpunished – #Sparkfun wrap up

Contests and giveaways have always been a great way to promote your product or website. With the advent of twitter, contests gained the power to flash over the internet in an instant heat wave. Recently (as of this writing recently means two hours ago) a company that I like, SparkFun Electronics, held a giveaway. They pledged to give away $100,000 worth of merchandise in $100 orders. Basically the first 1,000 customers would get $100 of stuff free.

Sparkfun skyrocketed to the top of google trends. They snagged a dozen links from blog posts and the traffic to their site must have been enormous because their servers slowed to a crawl. Yesterday Sparkfun didn’t have a single @reply on twitter, today they have over 500. The promotion started at 9am and instantly people started complaining on twitter.

EdwardHeilTrying to take advantage of #Sparkfun #freeday. Servers are jammed full with people trying to checkout.

The complaints started off as people just being disappointed that they couldn’t get their order through. As people got angry they filled the Sparkfun irc chatroom which grew to 2500 people.

justintormeyThird attempt at confirming my SparkFun order… Still no luck.#sparkfun #freeday

An  hour and half in and angry people started coming out of the woodwork.

rdmyldrmr @sparkfun Hey I promise I wont buy anything from you ever again. #sparkfail

With all this negative press and angry people, was it worth it for SparkFun? Absolutely. So far today they’ve occupied 4 out of the top 10 Google search terms for today. If that weren’t enough, which I’d say it is, their twitter account has exploded! It’s true, they have some people vowing never to order from them but I’m pretty sure these people never would have bought anything anyway. On the other hand, tens of thousands of people who had never heard of their website are all talking about them.

Should their servers have been better equipped to handle the load? Of course. But that’s not the point. Just look at their mentions compared to people saying sparkfail in the graph above. They probably paid $70,000 ($100,000 minus a likely 30% margin) to take over twitter and Google for a day. Everyone is blogging about them and their relatively unknown site has been skyrocketed into internet legend. This was a brilliant marketing move. Good work guys.



They wanted to stress test their new servers with this promotion. They actually stayed up through the torrent of traffic, which is impressive. Judging by the comments on twitter, it looks like a lot of people were clicking refresh over and over rather than waiting for the server to get around to their request – thus adding yet another request to the queue and putting themselves to the end of the line.

Alex Barger

I have been a Sparkfun customer for many years now. IMO they have done many things right in their marketing efforts over the years. I most enjoy how they utilize their blog to post new products on the site but also show how people are using that product in a cleaver or creative way. I found out about the free day in advance and had a feeling it was going to come to a grinding halt. I am just happy that some other lucky people were able to get a change to get some free product.



While I agree that the numbers of visitors and people that are now aware of this previously unknown company increased, bad press is still bad press. There are people whose first experience with Sparkfun was negative, and they really will never purchase from them. Whether they actually would have purchased in the future is irrelevant. Hoping that people won’t tell their friends about their negative experience is nothing to bank on. This is one of those things you need to plan on. Not all PR is good PR.

Dan Garfield

AJ, you’re right that there’s bad press but I don’t think this is. They had a small group of people who loudly backlashed. I think they had way more exposure than bad press.

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