Build-A-Bear’s Brand Takes a Beating: A Lesson in Social Crisis Monitoring

Niraj Sharma |
 07/25/18 |
3 min read

Even the best promotions can go wrong, and sometimes they spin wildly out of control! When this happens, social crisis monitoring is crucial to your recovery. Build-A-Bear Workshop’s recent Pay Your Age promotion fiasco offers a timely case study.

Building Love with a Big Promotion

On July 1, 2018 Build-A-Bear announced a one-day Pay Your Age promotion to take place on July 12th. The popular toy store’s average price for stuffed animals is around $25 – but hard-to-refuse accessories drive prices well beyond that minimum. Given that, the option to buy a $1 bear for your one-year-old, etc. is a great deal indeed.

The announcement got a lot of press in the days before the event, and NetBase Pro shows there was a spike in engagement on July 9th:

Sentiment was strongly positive (93%):

With parents of small children looking forward to the big day:

The Successful Failure Paradox

Things started off well enough on the day of the event, though many parents and children had to wait for hours to get into a store and make a purchase. Still, with such a discount, it seemed to be worth it. Those who were able to take advantage of the promotion were happy.

The problem was that most people waiting in line did not get to participate – despite waiting for hours – with the brand shutting down several stores, and limiting lines in others, due to “crowd safety concerns.”

There was certainly reason to worry – each store was pretty immediately overwhelmed from the moment they opened, with parents apparently undeterred by insanely long lines:

Appearing on The Today Show the day after the event, Build-A-Bear CEO Sharon Price shared that the promotion was the kick-off event for an ongoing Pay Your Age birthday promotion, and that the stores were stocked, staffed and ready. The turnout was simply more than they could have anticipated based on prior big promotions they’ve run.

Price stated explicitly that they had monitored social media and saw things were “winding up” 24-48 hours prior to the event. She explained they put out a notice that lines might be long, and “worked with the malls,” but it just wasn’t enough.

Where the event was shutdown, those in line received $15 vouchers – which is great, but not the same as paying a dollar, or five, etc. Many online said the event was mismanaged and suggested Build-A-Bear should have had different days or time slots for particular ages, or limited the event to the first 1,000 participants, or however many bears a store can hold in stock. Instead, they generated lots of anger from parents of disappointed toddlers.

Here’s a look at Emotions on the day of and after the promotion:

Net Sentiment fell to -3% due to the passionate negativity of so many disappointed customers.

Why Crisis Monitoring Is So Critical

What could the brand have done differently? Well, it’s good to hear they used social media monitoring to know there was overwhelming interest in the event. You always want to be aware of conversation and sentiment spikes – both good and bad.

Perhaps they misjudged, but as predictive as social media analytics can be, the human element means it can’t always be perfect.

Build-A-Bear did do a few things right: Clearly, they were monitoring the crisis as it unfolded, which is how they came to shut down locations where safety was at risk.

They also reacted swiftly in getting the word out that this is “not what they’re about,” by having their CEO appear on The Today Show. Video of the interview was #1 under Popular Posts, and Popular Media:

And where do things stand now? Sentiment is slowly rebounding – hitting 40% over the past week:

And though there’s still plenty of negative chatter, the positive emotions are more pronounced than many of the negative:

And the Pay Your Age promotion will still be on offer for bonus club members during their birthday month – which should also help.

It looks like Build-A-Bear will survive this crisis, though they’ll need to keep a close watch on social sentiment to be sure there are no setbacks. Crisis monitoring doesn’t end until things are back to normal.

And social monitoring overall should never end. That’s how you avoid a crisis in the first place.

For a customized demo of our crisis monitoring tools, reach out!



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