By now, you’ve heard the story of the 28-year-old California woman who died after drinking too much water in a radio-station contest. The story spread across the globe like lightning. I’d laugh if it weren’t so tragic.
Seems the woman was a contestant in a radio-station gimmick called “Hold Your Wee for a Wii.” The winner? The person who drank the most water without making a trip to the can. The prize was a Nintendo Wii video game worth about $500.
Don’t ask me why, but the media are suckers for such contests. They report on them, they promote them, and they send their cameras to capture the goofiness. It’s been this way since P.T. Barnum, so that means PR folks have been dreaming up this crap for more than a century. It’s just too easy.
The lesson here? You must run every marketing and promo idea through worst-case-scenario planning. Because Murphy’s Law is especially applicable to crazy contests. Your reputation and your bottom line may be at risk. You gotta wonder how many lawyers are lining up to help this woman’s family sue the radio station.
Could folks at the “107.9 The End” have anticipated that someone would die of “water intoxication? Maybe not. But what does it cost to get a medical opinion before asking people to do extraordinary things to their bodies? The station’s attorneys have no doubt gone into “no comment” mode, though an executive did publicly express regrets. There’s nothing on the station’s website about the incident.
ToysRUs learned another lesson with its contest that promised $25,000 to the first American baby born in 2007. As luck would have it, one of the first kids was born to a Chinese couple who happened to be in the U.S. illegally. Opps.
All hell broke loose when the company enforced the rules and awarded the prize to an American baby. Soon after, ToysRUs retreated and gave $25K savings bonds to all three babies born at the stroke of midnight — even the one belonging to the illegal immigrants. Mea culpa, mea culpa.
Hey, ToysRUs can afford the $75K. What the comany can’t afford is the illwill and negative publicity that comes with such a miscue. They upset the Chinese-American community. They upset the anti-immigration community. Hell, the only happy people are the couples who got the money.
Once again, don’t you think a little worst-case planning would have turned up the issue of illegal immigrants?
The next time you get a wild idea for a contest, think it through. Whatever can go wrong probably will. Major Murphy taught us that.