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Olive Garden: Is all Public Relations Good PR?

Olive Garden: Is all Public Relations Good PR?
Olive Garden: Is all Public Relations Good PR?

In an effort to boost traffic, generate a buzz, and build public relations, Olive Garden, one of America’s favorite Italian restaurant chains, offered customers a 7-week pass to unlimited pasta meals in tandem with the launch of its new Buy One, Take One marketing initiatives. The pass’s shocking affordability had customers clamoring Monday afternoon, and Olive Garden sold out of their 1,000 passes in 45 minutes. Unfortunately, several logistic aspects have caused the negative effects of the campaign to hit the news.

IT Issues So Soon?

Soon after its launch, the influx of visitors seeking The Never Ending Pasta Pass caused the Olive Garden site to crash. With nearly 4 million weekly visitors, Olive Garden’s IT crew had to see the issue coming from a mile away. Some people refreshed their Web browsers repeatedly in order to get the pass, others got frustrated and left the site. Yet another group got through to the purchase area, entered their credit card information, and were then alerted that they weren’t one of the lucky 1,000. Hundreds of customers have publicly complained about the issues on the site…and thousands of potential customers would have never heard of the pass had those few not complained (opinions are one of the most shared content pieces).

Capitalizing on The Momentum

Anyone who wasn’t aware of or missed the initial opportunity is searching high and low for a second-chance purchase. Scammers and savy sellers alike are taking advantage of the public relations momentum of this marketing initiative, selling bogus passes on eBay and offering legitimate passes at outrageous prices. Online resellers are working overtime to fight the fakes and crackdown on the rules. In fact, Olive Garden added into the fine print that Never Ending Pasta Passes are non-transferable and may not be resold. Fortunately, they are also offering Never Ending Pasta Bowls and the Buy One, Take One campaign for anyone (Coincidence? Nah.). Plus, Olive Garden has shared that they’re going to post specials on their social channels in the weeks following the campaign launch.

Negative Becomes You, Olive Garden

Olive Garden has had success in the past with out-of-the-box initiatives. For instance, in 2012 its numbers were down from the year prior. When it cut all employees to part-time – citing Obamacare as the reason – naysayers of Obamacare were intrigued. This politically-fueled endeavor initially caused a dip in 2012 profit projections and stock prices. In 2013, Olive Garden’s total sales were up 2.9 percent from fiscal 2012. Though it threw a negative shadow on the restaurant, the Obamacare issue is an example of how negative initiatives can create opportunity.

It’s difficult to tell if the organization took into consideration the possible negative repercussions of their new campaign, but whether a knee-jerk reaction to cash-flow issues or a strategic public relations marketing initiative, Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Pass has landed it right where it wanted to be – on the minds of Americans throughout the nation.

We highly recommend having a strategic plan before taking drastic measures such as this. Ask yourself these five questions before creating your marketing plan or a public relations effort. And if you’re looking for a quick buck without spending much, make sure to think of how it affects your existing customers. If you’re looking for a great new campaign or idea, give us a call. We can help you think through the logistics and make an impact on your existing customer base while growing your reach.


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