Free chocolate = service outage

M & M Candy
M & M Candy

M&M Mars company offered a coupon for free chocolate, but didn’t bother to think through the effects of this promotion on their web site.  Any marketer should know that you get negative brand awareness if you offer something positive, like free chocolate, and then make the experience painful.  This is what Mars company did this morning.  The RealChocolate.com site asks you to register to win free chocolate each week for the summer and if you tried before noon or so PDT today, you probably only got frustrated.  While this promotion may not have as much immediate draw as Oprah, it certainly garners a lot of attention from the deal sites such as Consumerist and DealNews.

This sort of negative publicity is easily avoidable.  Proper testing methodology includes flash crowd testing from the open internet, performing an end-to-end transaction.  Their IIS servers can be made to scale, if configured and built out correctly, but it needs to be proven before your customers tell you that it didn’t work.

Just as important is timing.  Good testing methodology means good communication between the marketing-communications teams to the web operations teams.  Testing like this needs to be done far enough in advance that you have time to fix something or correct an issue before you go live–in other words, testing the day before isn’t good enough and is more or less a waste of time and resources.  Start at least a week in advance, find out what happens under potential load scenarios, practice remediation strategies, etc.

So M&M Mars, next time call me first.

Liza Minelli crashes web site

Lize Minelli crashes web site
Lize Minelli crashes web site

Liza Minelli, the famous daughter of the famous Judy Garland, causes more traffic than the Sydney Opera House web site can handle and crashes.  The article doesn’t say how much traffic they received, only mentioning that the technicians took hours to get the site operational again.  That tells me that the crash wasn’t just because of a high traffic spike by itself, because otherwise the site would have recovered after the traffic left.  Moreover, the appear to not have had a monitoring service, so they may not have even known that the site was experiencing problems until customers starting calling to complain.

It is ironic that firms set up websites to handle customer traffic to lower costs and reduce the amount of operator staff to take calls.   This crash flooded their call operators and caused negative publicity.

Proper load testing takes time and money.  The Return On Investment is usually rather easy to see when you compare it with the damage caused by the web site crashing during an importent event like this.  This was probably one of the most popular events to be at the Opera House in a while, and I doubt that the Opera House management performed end-to-end load testing as they should.  I see this so often and it doesn’t have to happen.