Learning from the Threshers promotion


Heather Yaxley has blogged about the UK drinks retailer Threshers’ 40% discount voucher that circulated the UK blogosphere recently.

The voucher was originally intended for a limited audience, but spread rapidly around the internet once it had been posted by top UK blogger Hugh McLeod and on (originally) the Stormhoek wine blog (some background here, thanks to David Brain).

At the time the promotion hit there was much speculation about whether it was intended as a viral marketing tool, or was a friends and family promotion that spread beyond its original intended audience.

Stuart Bruce had some pretty strong thoughts about how the promotion reflected on Threshers as a business. Judging by the press release that Heather quotes (can’t find the full version on the Threshers site), I would tend to agree with most of the points Stuart makes.

However my interest in the whole affair is less about Threshers and the commercial aspects of the promotion, and more about how a promotion has gone viral through social media.

The Threshers experience does highlight a few points that marketing and PR people should think about:

  • You can’t predict what will turn viral and what won’t – it depends on external / environmental factors as well as what you do
  • You can however create a favourable context for a promotion that makes it more likely to go viral – doing something that has “tell a mate appeal” helps – whether the benefit for the recipient is financial, humourous or just has perceived value (aka gossip)
  • Always evaluate the impact on your business organisations or reputation if a promotion does go viral – even if the viral effect isn’t what you want, see it as risk analysis

What would be really interesting would be to do some analysis of the routes the message spread along through the blogosphere – it would show how social networks can be pervasive throughout many different groups and geographies in the physical world. It’d also show how quickly the blogosphere picks up on hot topics.

Another facet of this kind of analysis would be looking at the content/tone of the message as it spread – a bit like the Chinese whisper effect. What started off as a price promotion message rapidly distorted in places into a potentially unfavourable discussion about relative pricing between Threshers and its competitors (eg here) – a good example of how messages can evolve and the originator always loses control in the social space.