How NOT to Run a Promotion: Sara Lee’s Recent Debacle

Think back to when you were a kid (I know that’s harder for some of us than others) and cereal boxes and comic books had “special offers” that you could mail off for – and for a few proofs of purchase and shipping/handling of course, the x-ray glasses were yours. Since time was a foreign concept at that age (6-8 weeks just didn’t compute to a 5 year old), going to the mailbox everyday was a daily ritual until the glorious day of receipt! A similar opportunity recently transported me back to that place and then earlier this week, I plunged back to reality thanks to a major faux pas by Sara Lee.

Over the summer, Sara Lee’s Soft and Smooth brand bread ran a “Back to School” promotion for a Toy Story 3 Lunch Box – simply send in 5 proofs of purchase and the nifty lunch box is yours (they would even take care of the shipping/handling) – great offer, right? So I thought. Well after working diligently for a few months to plow through the bread and send off for the lunch box, I find out that Sara Lee has given out all of the lunch boxes that were allotted for this promotion. From what I understand, many people are receiving their envelopes returned with “stock depleted” stamped on the back – that’s it, no letter, no apology, not even an “our bad.”

For those of us with kids, this is devastating to them as well as a great business lesson – in how NOT to do business. Since Sara Lee announced the end of this promotion in late July with a statement on their Facebook page no less, stating “The Toy Story 3 promotion was one of our most successful programs to date. And, because of that, our supplies have run out and the promotion is over. We understand your frustrations. Please continue to look here for updates and news for future promotions.” While this is how promotions work and it is a good example of why we need to act quickly when the reward is a highly desirable item. What a moronic way of doing business for Sara Lee.

A quick Google search of the term “Sara Lee Toy Story 3 Promotion” yields over 3 million results – overwhelmingly posts where they are getting hammered for their handling of this promotion. Their Facebook page is also filled with hundreds of gripes over this issue. Bad form Sara Lee.

The takeaway for me is that before you run any promotion, make sure you can accommodate the issue of supply & demand – the current phenom Groupon (this is an affiliate link) is one of the fastest growing companies in history & has a complex algorithm to deal with just such problems since it is a problem, meaning too much business from a promotion. And if you do pull a Sara Lee, handle the situation with more class – stop printing the promo on packages, send a personalized letter offering to fix the problem, offer a substitute product – take your pick; but simply stamping envelopes & returning them to sender is about the worst thing you can do.

Bottom line – use common sense in your promotions – and don’t buy another Sara Lee product – maybe a shock to Sara Lee’s bottom line will give them some common sense next time!

About Mark Deutsch

Small Business Sales & Marketing Expert | Best Selling Author | Speaker | Trainer | Disruptive Idea Creator
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