Build-a-Bear promotion ends in disaster

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The Build-A-Bear store in Belfast where police were called to deal with crowds who turned up for an over subscribed 'pay your age' promotion and has since had to close. Picture date: Thursday July 12, 2018. See PA story CONSUMER BuildABear Belfast. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire URN:37526730 (Press Association via AP Images)

Toy retailer Build-a-Bear Workshop suffered a PR fail last week when it’s Pay Your Age Day promotion ended in chaos and angry customers across the UK and America. So, what went wrong, and could it have been avoided?

The brand came up with an original idea – offering customers the chance to buy a bear, which can cost up to £52, for the price of their child’s age at stores nationwide for one day only. The demand was overwhelming, and customers had begun queuing before stores even opened, resulting in long waiting times , security and total pandemonium.

One witness described “Queuing from the store, all the way outside, approximately five-hour queue. There are even police here trying to keep the peace”. Whilst another shopper reported “Children were becoming distressed from the waiting and the heat inside the shopping centre.”

The company was soon forced to stop the promotion and shut stores resulting in hundreds of angry parents, countless disappointed children and harsh criticism across the national press and social media. As a consolation, the Build-a-Bear Workshop offered £12 and $15 vouchers to all customers who signed up to their online Bonus Club. This gesture could cost them far more than they anticipate as it went viral amongst customers who had never even been to the Pay Your Age event in the first place.

Daily Mail Iceland Marmite Ruling

Daily Mail Iceland ASA Promotion Ruling

This isn’t the first time a well-known brand has landed in hot water over a poorly thought out promotion and giving little attention to public demand. Last year’s Daily Mail coupon promotion for free jars of Marmite from Iceland stores ended in calamity and an ASA Ruling. Even though Iceland had stocked 10,000 jars of Marmite they were not distributed evenly around the country leaving many customers empty-handed resulting in numerous complaints. The ruling made it clear that the wording “Subject to availability, whilst stocks last” in the Daily Mail was not enough to get a promoter off the hook for under-stocking a promotion.


Argos once ran national press adverts proclaiming ‘Half Price 4gb Sandisk Memory Sticks/ Limited availability….’ But they soon ran out of the products and the ASA received complaints. The ASA’s investigations found that stores were stocking only one or two of the 4gb drives and the official ruling “…considered the small print was not sufficient to warn the consumer of the very limited nature of the offer….and because Argos had not made a reasonable estimate of demand AND the ad did not make clear the limited stock, the ad was misleading and must not be repeated”.

And last year US swimwear retailer, Sunny Co Clothing, ran a social media promotion that went viral and spiralled out of control receiving hundreds of thousands of entries. To win a $64 swimsuit, entrants simply had to repost a now iconic red swimsuit image resulting in the company’s Instagram being closed down for spamming and a grovelling apology from management promising to honour the first 50,000 winners.

What could the Build-a-Bear Company have done differently?

1. Introduce a gaming element – Asking entrants to register for the promotion and then selecting winners who could buy the marked-down bears would have eliminated the crowds but kept the sense of excitement. Footlocker now use this mechanic for their highly popular Adidas Yeezy promotions with much success.
2. Create a forecast document – Base this on previous experience and promotions, ensure all stores have access to it and are stocked accordingly. It will also be proof that the promotion was planned.
3. Guarantee your prizes – Overstock to avoid disappointment and have extra products available
4. Bullet proof Terms & Conditions – your T&Cs should contain key information such as closing dates, the number of items available, any entry restriction to protect the promoter and the entrants from abuse.

For help with planning and shaping your next promotion from start to finish contact PromoVeritas on 0203 325 6000 or email

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