By Jared Newman | Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 1:39 pm
The other day, I was browsing through my Twitter feed and spotted a link to a free meal coupon from KFC. Needing dinner, I printed out the coupon and took it to my local restaurant for some free grilled chicken, two sides and a biscuit. I also retweeted the link and told some friends through e-mail.
To put it another way, I helped the offer go viral. As demand soared, KFC began experiencing difficulties. Not everyone was getting their chicken, and some angry would-be diners went so far as to protest en masse.
It didn’t help that the Internet made it easy to exploit the system. Getting the coupon required downloading and installing a program that ensures you’re only printing one, but it didn’t take long for people to find the PDF version, which was offered to viewers of Oprah on the night of the show. I believe this is how the promotion started, but it certainly wasn’t how it ended.
A variation on this theme occurred earlier this year, when Quizno’s decided to give away one million subs for free. Not more than a two days after the promotion began, customers reported being turned away or subjected to bait-and-switch from franchise owners. In a memo, Quizno’s corporate noted the impressive speed with which the campaign spread and increased the reimbursement level to each franchise as a result.
That information spreads quickly over the Internet is no revelation, but these examples show how quickly the Web can motivate people to get their free lunch. That leads to store owners getting overwhelmed, which leads to backlash. Fast food chains, consider yourselves warned.