How online+offline promotion can go wrong

We’ve been advertising offline for hundreds of years. We’ve been marketing online long enough to learn a thing or two. One of the things we’ve learned is how powerful the two can be when they’re blended, like a fine scotch. But when it goes bad, it tastes awful.

Like PepsiCo’s (PEP, info) latest effort.¬†Recently, I was drinking some soda out of a large cup from a fast food place. I noticed a “Peel-Here-to-Win” sticker on the side of the cup. I peeled the sticker to see what I may have won, and found the words (words?) “M4PER AYZVF” on the other side. Puzzled, I looked at the front of the cup again. It said, “For details, go to www.pepsistuff.com.” I thought, “Cool.” Here’s what happened:

1. My browser took me to a page that offered a free Internet answering machine. “Hear who is calling while you’re online! Avoid the cost of an extra phone line. It’s FREE! It downloads in less than a minute. It’s EASY!” The window contained a URL that has nothing to do with Pepsi, but implied that affiliate marketing king Commission Junction was involved, since the URL that appeared included a reference to the company. But nothing about Pepsi. Nothing about the fabulous prize I was to win.

2. A new browser window opened up in the lower right corner of my screen. It was 1-inch x 1-inch. It was black. When I hovered the cursor over the top of the window, the pop-up showed: “MUSIC VIDEOS AND THE LATEST MP3!!!” The music videos window was a permanent size and could not be opened. I know this because I tried to expand it to see if it contained the prize I had won.

3. Another browser window opened in the upper left of my screen. This one was big enough to display a picture of the Pink Panther playing a saxophone and the message: “Make love in a new place. Click here.” This URL belonged to GamesMP3.com. I clicked, only to have the entire americangreetings.com “Love & Romance” page crammed into the small browser window previously occupied by the panther. Before I got the chance to consider the impact all of this might be having on the Pepsi brand…

4. Another browser window appeared with the words, “MusicLyrics.net,” and yet another URL in it. But there were no links to take me anywhere. No Pepsi prize information. Before I had time to slip from incredulity to despondency…

5. Another browser window appeared to tell me: “DancingHamsters.com…Uh oh!!!…. They’re here….” Clicking here took me first to www.cupcakeparty.com/html/dancing-hamsters.html, which handed me over to www.dancinghamsters.com which, if you can avoid, you should. This was followed by…

6. Another browser window trying to sell me a credit card. Upon closing the hamsters window, three more browsers sprouted with additional offerings, one of which was the same Internet answering machine page I had already seen.

At this point, it became obvious that Pepsi was not involved in any way with all of this. How could this have happened?

Slippery fingers!

That’s right, I had done it to myself. In my haste to my see my winnings, I had not typed in “www.pepsistuff.com.” I had left off the last “f” in stuff. Dang. Here I was, all set to lambaste Pepsi for their errant ways, when it was only a matter of a typo.

Upon arrival at the right site, I was invited to “Click Here to Start!” I could hardly wait. One click and…”Yahoo! (YHOO, info) and Pepsi-Cola have partnered to bring you Pepsistuff.com. In order to participate, you need a Yahoo! ID and Password.” Sneaky.

Luckily, I had created a Yahoo! account years ago. So I looked up my long-forgotten username and password and typed it in. I could smell the prize that would soon be mine.

“To participate, please review the following sign-up form and click ‘Submit This Form’ below.” The form was a list of 11 logos and an invitation to “select the sponsors you would like to hear from in the future. For those selected, you give Yahoo! permission to share your email address, first name, and last name with the participating sponsors. In certain cases, your month and year of birth will also be shared in order to appropriately tailor the content of the message.”

Taking a large rain check on all of the above, I hit “submit” and was finally invited to enter my code! With fingers trembling, I carefully type in the gibberish I found on that soda cup and cautiously reviewed my typing. “m4perayzv…”

“You just got 100 Pepsistuff Points! Click below to get cool stuff!”

Oh boy! What could I get with my 100 points? Well, Sam Goody will give me $2 off the purchase of a CD for 200 points. And if I saved up 4,000 points, I could have a set of two 17-ounce glasses with the word “Pepsi” etched onto them.

I think I’m going to go back and find out about that Internet answering machine. Hey–at least it was free! And remind me to only drink Coke from now on.