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.