Editor’s Note: Mark and Monika Clodius own Clodius & Co. in Rockford, IL. This is Mark’s account of a marketing effort that proved too successful and provoked some unexpected complaints.
We have marketing meetings every week, or every other week year round and we had canceled a summer event we had planned because the logistics weren’t working out. We already had some advertising-purchase commitments. So, it had been a slow summer with no big sales or events, but we had noticed increasing buzz about the Aug. 21 eclipse.
The eclipse had been on my radar since last year, and the media was starting to talk a lot about glasses, and I thought, 'Hey, let’s just buy some glasses and give them away.' This was in early July. We were able to buy the glasses for 30 cents each and this was from one of the legitimate listed companies.
So we bought 1,000 of them for $300 bucks, plus shipping. By the week before the eclipse, there was a lot of press about glasses getting hard to get and people selling them for $5 a pair. By the time it was a week away, people were charging $30 a pair, or even $100 a pair, with delivery.
We had a web landing page made, did an announcement on Facebook and cut a radio ad for free eclipse glasses. They just had to stop in, fill out their information and sign a waiver or release for eye damage.
Who could have known that they would be sold out around the whole country?
When people started flooding in, we quickly started limiting the number of glasses people could receive, ending up with one per household. But people argued with us about the limit. Maybe there were 10 people who weren’t nice about it, but boy did they stick out. One man said, “My grandma is in the car, let me go get her signature for her own pair.” (There was no one in the car.)
There was a lady who came in with seven children and she wanted seven pairs of glasses. At that point we were giving one per person, with a maximum of two per household. And she threw a fit. And she was complaining that we were doing false advertising. She had another adult with her who filled out a form for a different address, so she actually got four pair of glasses. We pointed out that you are not supposed to use them for more than three minutes at a time. They are made for sharing. The eclipse would be visible way over an hour length of time, so everybody would have plenty of opportunity. Still, she is going to tell all of her friends how bad we are. She even wrote us a letter.
Teachers called wanting us to equip their whole grade-school class.
Rockford’s wealthiest business man’s office called (he is not a customer) and asked for 50 pairs because he was having our state senator, mayor and other IMPORTANT people over for an eclipse-viewing party and they couldn’t buy them anywhere. They wanted to know, “How much will you sell them for? Do you want to ruin the party?” I said one per household, but I would check with my partner (Monika), then I called them back the next day and offered five pairs and their tune had changed 100 percent to being very thankful.
Then Google raised our glasses giveaway web page organically onto the FIRST PAGE of the “eclipse glasses” search. Needless to say ours was the only page offering free glasses, so we had hundreds of people calling and driving from hundreds of miles away for just one pair. It was madness; we stopped the campaign less than halfway through, canceled everything and still had hundreds of phone calls.
There was even one person who got a free pair from us and used the word lawsuit about eye damage. She said she was calling us from the eye doctor. She wanted to know where we got the glasses, so we gave her the name of the manufacturer. But nothing has come of that.
There were a couple of hugs and comments like “This is so nice of you guys” and “how wonderful.” It’s just that the negative stuff was unexpected.
We did get at least one new customer. And we did capture names and addresses, in addition to having them sign the waivers. So we have information for about 800 people who had never been to our store before. Each one is going to receive a personalized letter saying we invite them to be customers and we hope they enjoyed the glasses, and here’s a coupon for a free watch battery, to see if we cane entice people in.
We all do events. But I’ve never known of something to go haywire because it was too successful and that’s what really happened.
We have a lot of mixed feelings. Yes, it would have been great to have had lots more glasses. We had eight days of advertising planned, but we only got to use three or four days, and we were not prepared for the overwhelming response.
It shows you what the power of media can be if everything lines up. If the offer, the message and the events are powerful enough, you can drive mass quantities of people into your store. Even from 100 miles away!