The "World's Longest Virtual flight," a one year anniversary promotion of Asian budget airline Scoot, fell flat after "taking off" without over 5,000 virtual passengers.
The flight, which was also the world's first "virtual flight" in which a boarding time brings a decentralized group of people together digitally, was a marketing promotion with a prize of $20,000 Singapore dollars and a free year of flights.
Contestants were required to download a branded Scoot app, and in order to win, had to board a flight which started at a set time.They then had to tap a button every 60 seconds during the flight via the app.
The last person remaining on the "flight" would win the prize package.
After 18 hours of tapping, a winner was announced: 29 year-old Mohammed Firdaus Bin Ismani.
But the big news was that many people had been kicked off the app.
Unable to participate, they took to Facebook to complain. Aware of the issue, the company delayed the "departure," or the start of the contest, to try to figure out the issue. In the end, only 2,000 out of the 7,000 people that had pre-registered were actually able to participate.
In one of their posts on Facebook, the company acknowledges the problem while promising to address it:
Dear Scoot Community,
The contest is still ongoing and we wish to be fair to the participants who have been in the game since 9.30pm last night. We are also mindful of the frustrations many of you are feeling and we wish to be fair to those who had registered and were unable to participate as well. Please do give us time to wrap up the current contest and to also finish our investigations. Rest assured that we are listening to your feedback and we haven’t been deleting any comments. We will be back with more information as soon as we possibly can.
However, at an in-person event at a cinema in Singapore, the company added fuel to the fire by awarding free flights to Sydney to those participants that experienced problems - rather than to every single registrant that was unable to board the flight.
The company awarded the $20,000 and one year of flights yesterday, posting a congratulations message that also emphasized the company's commitment to users' problems:
Now the competition is over we’re turning our full attention to investigating what prevented some registrants from participating in the competition. We’ll be posting our findings in the next couple of days, but at this stage it appears that the problem was a server load balancing hardware failure.
We understand how frustrating it must be, but please bear with us as we make some tweaks, test, test and test some more. Then, once we're sure the failure has been corrected (we expect this to take a couple of weeks), we’ll email all original registrants (except Firdaus, of course) so everyone can have a fair go at winning $20,000 and other prizes.
For his part, Scoot CEO Campbell Wilson has committed to a replay of the competition for those who were unable to join. He said in a statement,
Once the hardware issue is fixed, and the application thoroughly tested, we will e-mail all registrants so they can take another crack at the $20,000 and a year's worth of flights.
The promotion itself is quite clever, and Scoot should be commended for working through a highly engaging and potentially very viral promotion.
The airline had been doing a consistent job at promoting the upcoming promotion via their Facebook page, asking questions and generally hyping the promo.
However, the irony of a "virtual flight" being oversold - with passengers kicked off due to capacity issues, this time server-rather-than-seat related - was not lost on participants.
Disgruntled comments flooded the Facebook page, and were a complete distraction from the promotion itself - it certainly got people talking about the brand, but it was not at all positive. In the end, over a thousand comments were posted related to the contest, with many of them taking a harsh tone:
Let this be a warning to any company attempting a contest-based promotion - they can be easily rigged, and it's worthwhile to go with a digital agency that has depth of knowledge in this field.
The technology must be there to back up any digital marketing effort, and even though the company insists they had load-tested the app the night before the promotion, the error has cost Scoot quite a bit of priceless goodwill - and an extra prize package valued at multiple thousands of Singapore dollars.