Sometimes the biggest of businesses are the best example of what not to do.  One of the most recent examples of this is with the failed publicity manoeuvre by none other than Dr. Pepper, who’s over the top idea had the ability to create buzz, but instead has left a bad taste (non pun intended) in many a mouth.

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For a quick recap Dr. Pepper went on record saying that they would give every person in the United States a free 20oz bottle of Dr. Pepper soda if rock band Guns N’ Roses (GNR) released their long-awaited album before the end of 2008. Anyone remotely familiar with the band would have thought this a safe bet since GNR had been working on this album for YEARS without much forward momentum.  This publicity stunt was right up there with some of the best stunts of all time. It was a creative idea, they went big with it, and it was generating buzz like crazy (let’s be honest, who’s talking about Dr. Pepper?) Their out of pocket cost was zero, and there was a better than average chance that this would not cost them a dime since the pay-out was based on such a slim possibility that this band would pull it together. A winner right?


By some stroke of divine intervention GNR was able to complete their album and were set to release it at the end of November, and Dr. Pepper was going to have to pay up.  Everything went according to plan until the day came for America to claim their free soda. All America had to do was go to Dr. Pepper’s website where the coupons were being given away to claim theirs…oh, and they had to do it within a 24 hour period, because just maybe the enormity of giving out 365 million sodas dawned on the executives at Dr. Pepper.  Anyone see the problem here?  Dr. Pepper servers were besieged by literally millions of Dr. Pepper fans, and free loaders alike, all clamouring to get their coupon within the time limit, and the DP servers crashed. So instead of many happy customers printing off coupons, Dr. Pepper immediately had millions of consumers left frustrated, and vocally sharing their opinion of Dr. Pepper in a public outcry. Dr. Pepper did extend the window of opportunity one day to accommodate, but by then the negative impact was huge as word of the disaster went viral almost immediately.


Dr. Pepper is still reeling over the debacle, as some consumers continue to spread the negative word and feel duped by the corporation (because hey, who doesn’t want a free can of soda?)  To make matters worse the front man for GNR has threatened legal proceedings due to the way the publicity stunt was handled.


  • Going big with your publicity activities is great, but be as prepared for things to go brilliantly, as you are for them to fall flat.
  • Keep in mind that a publicity stunt is designed to draw a lot of attention, and if successful thousands to millions of people will be watching…positive or negative.
  • Know your max loss going in and be ready to make good. Mitigating a loss after the fact (Like Dr. Pepper did with instituting a window of time to redeem) will only tarnish your image.
  • Understand and accept the risk of a publicity move. Bad publicity has a tendency to go viral much quicker than good publicity. If you can’t stand the thought of numerous unhappy campers if things go wrong, then a publicity move may not be the right move for your business.


Given all the above…did Dr. Pepper actually accomplish their goal anyway?  Is any publicity good publicity, or have they really tarnished their image in the eyes of the consumer? My take is this. I haven’t heard so many people talking, and read so many news stories about  Dr. Pepper – EVER.  In the end they may have gotten just what they were after, and in turn could that have improved their productivity, positivity and eventually…sales. Who knows?



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