Cheap pizza; a social media example…

Reading this post here on Rory Sutherland’s blog (about using social media to offer people the chance to be generous to their friends) made me remember something I did last summer, and did nothing with…

…so this is me doing something with it.

You’ll be well aware of the glut of restaurant/clothing/drinks etc vouchers that were set off in the wake of the Thresher 40% voucher.

So you get the voucher, and can get 20% off, but then you pass it on to your friends, who get the same, and so own (it’s more mass, and not nearly as generous, as the idea Rory’s talking about).

But it shares a common thread in the fact the people are doing your media planning for you; you are deciding who amongst your friends would like the voucher, so you’re doing the ‘targeting’ job for the company.

Now, there are both good and bad outcomes here.  Here’s some proof…

Last summer I scraped together a set of about 30 emails for the 2-for-1 offer at a well known upmarket pizza chain (out of personal interest, I don’t work on the client), and looked at patterns in the ‘email trail’ under the emails.

Here’s an example of two of the chains that reached me directly…


Using the email chains (no-one really deletes who’d sent it to them before, and when, and to who else, handily) I constructed the following assumptions:

  • 1 in 20 people passed it on
  • On average, they sent it on to 30 people
  • This ’30 people’ was very long-tail; a few would send it office-wide, most would only send it to 5-10 people
  • The average time it took to be passed on was 12 minutes

So, with all those assumptions in place, one email would take five hours, and twenty-six steps, to reach two million people.  

Which was great news for the pizza company, I’m sure.  But then came the interesting bit…

Firstly, lots of restaurant competitors started doing the same, and sending round competitive lunch-time offers.  Which you’d expect, I guess.

What’s less expected that somewhere along the line, consumers started grouping ALL the vouchers together on one email to send to their friends. 

The people fulfilled their role as ‘free media’.  But they changed the context of the message.

What was once a powerful piece of direct targeting for the pizza company became an open marketplace where companies were in direct competition, and on price. 

Not what the pizza company, or their rivals, had in mind surely.

If you want to ask people to pass on your message for you, that’s fine.  Just don’t get upset when they change the message to benefit themselves and their friends…