Business, Media

Ambush marketers hold Woolworths to ransom, and get some lovin’ in return

By Branko Brkic 7 February 2010

Last week a young businessman found a typo in a Woolies Twitter campaign for Valentine’s Day. There was a kidnapping involved, but some quick thinking and a whole lot of social media understanding resulted in smiles all around. 

Last Sunday night, like thousands of South Africans who’re less than impressed with the fare on TV, a Capetonian by the name of Shane Dryden was hanging out on Twitter. One of the posts that caught his attention was about a Woolworths Valentine’s Day campaign, so he opened the link. In it he saw a photo of the campaign poster, which explained the concept: the person who tweets their “lovebird” the most between February 1st and February 14th wins R50,000. Shane, intrigued, copied the URL – www.woolieslovebird.co.za. The website did not exist.

Which was not quite the equivalent of a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon and causing a hurricane on the far side of the world. In this instance, let’s just say, it caused a stiff local breeze.

Because here’s what Shane, a resourceful bloke, did. He Googled the campaign and found that the correct URL was actually woolieslovebirds.co.za (with an “s”); he checked whether the URL on the campaign posters (without an “s”) was registered; he discovered that it wasn’t and registered the domain name himself; he pointed the incorrect URL (the one advertised on all those Woolies posters) at the website of his online kitchen appliances company, Yuppiechef.

On Monday morning Shane called a meeting with his partners, Andrew Smith and Paul Galatis, to plot the next step. The guys were excited and a little overwhelmed – appropriate reactions from three young businessmen (none of the partners are older than 30) who suddenly find themselves squaring up to a retail giant. They decided, therefore, that they weren’t going to continue cybersquatting. Instead, they’d hold Woolworths to ransom. They’d make the company match all donations to Yuppiechef’s 2010 charity, Soil for Life – an NGO that teaches the underprivileged how to grow their own food – until Valentine’s Day.

In their ransom letter to Woolworths, Shane, Andrew and Paul capped the price at R5,000. They had talked about a much bigger price, but for a bunch of reasons (legal fees conceivably being the main one) they went in low. On Tuesday, February 2nd, Woolworths replied to the letter. They said they’d up the cap to R7,500.

“It was a bit of an anti-climax,” Paul told the Daily Maverick, striking an incongruous – if understandable – note of disappointment at not getting a bigger fight. Still, the former marketing and branding man was philosophical. “Welcome to the world of social media,” he said. “Lawyers are very old school.”

It was far from the end of the ride, though. Someone at Woolworths clearly understood the social media value in letting Yuppiechef keep the incorrect domain name. This same person probably also understood (Woolworths should give him or her a raise) that, like Shane, most people looking for the real website would Google it.

So word continued to spread. On February 5th, Paul was invited onto Jeremy Mansfield’s Rude Awakening show on 94.7 Highveld. Philips South Africa called afterwards to donate R10,000. At the time of writing, with a week to go until Valentine’s Day and mainstream media still picking up on the story, Yuppiechef have raised over R50,000 for Soil for Life.

Somewhere in here, we think, is a case study for a business school textbook.

By Kevin Bloom

Read more: Yuppiechef

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