How Build a Bear quickly learned that their campaign was a… Bear-y Bad idea

Pardon the terrible, terrible pun in the title (I can’t resist one, really). Let’s talk about Build-A-Bear and their infamous campaign that went to pot last week. If you’ve not managed to hear about the ‘incident’ yet, then you’d have done well to avoid the news of this terrible campaign. Proposed, developed and executed by Build-A-Bear. (How I have no idea really, but we’ll come to that).

Anyhow, if you’ve not heard about the ‘Build-A-Bear’ incident, more colloquially known (or more so presented by me just now) as the bear-y bad idea then here’s the low down.

The Build-A-Bear ‘Pay Your Age’ Campaign.

As far as poor campaigns go, this one was one for the ages. Up there with the likes of the ‘free flights on Hoover‘ and the ‘Pepsi will solve all of your problems‘ fiascoes; Build-A-Bear introduced another for the books last week.


The ‘Pay Your Age’ day meant literally that. Does that mean if your child was yet to have their first birthday that they’d be granted a bear for free? Who knows. Anyway, the usually somewhat highly-priced toy store was soon set to choke on their words.

Queues of people were awash from the get-go. Fights were erupting in the lines of the people ready to receive their bargain bear; whilst members of Build-A-Bar staff were being both physically and verbally abused inside. Due to the unprecedented demand and the not-so-sought-after attention that followed from frustrated shoppers, Build-A-Bear were forced to close almost all of their stores early that day. Bidding goodbye to the ‘Pay Your Age’ campaign far before the day was over.

One only needs to type ‘Build A Bear’ in to Twitter to recognise the issues that arose on Thursday. Highlighting over and over (and over) again this terrible PR blip from the company.


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The stores closed not only nationally but globally. The closure was announced via  simple printed posters on the doors and a questionable un-empathetic message on Twitter.


What sufficed following the apology from Build-A-Bear was a £12 off voucher for those who couldn’t grab their discounted bear on July 12th. Whilst this apology and compensation has been actually been accepted by many, there’s still many many more who remain angry and disappointed with the company and their effective failure to deliver on a promise.

But, i’m all for letting bygones be bygones. In fact, i’d not even heard of the campaign until the day of the 12th July. Even then, I was in no hurry to wait in a 8 hour queue for a couple of quid off. Build-A-Bear and their wrongdoings on their consumers are not what i’m here to talk about. What I am here to talk about is how this is a truly abhorrent PR campaign and how I think this could effect the company moving forward.

How to build a terrible PR campaign.

What’s harrowing to me is how this campaign ever actually made it to the execution stage. (I’m not saying this stuff literally keeps me up at night; but from someone with a keen PR brain – it’s certainly disconcerting).

PR campaigns – especially those delivered by a large established company such as Build-A-Bear – need to be checked, checked and checked again. (And then checked a few more times after that). Every eventuality should be accounted for and every scenario envisaged. With so many marketing fails to learn from, it’s dumbfounding: the amount of companies that are still making slip-ups.

Nevertheless, it happened. I mean i’m completely surprised that the PR and Marketing team behind Build-A-Bear didn’t see the colossal demand coming. But still, it’s been and done and there’s not much to be done about it now. Apart from of course, for Build-A-Bear to learn from their mistakes.

I have to say I think the £12 voucher that followed the Build-A-Bear blip was certainly a good idea and I definitely applaud it. Some people may even save more than they originally would have in the previous campaign. Not only this but they’ll have far longer to utilise the offer. I’ve done a bit of digging and it seems that the voucher is valid up until the end of August. Nice move Build-A-Bear! This staggers the amount of customers per day, but at the same time gives those who were disappointed more than enough time to grab their bargain (allowing Build-A-Bear to redeem themselves).

Anyway, here’s for the killer question and the one I always come to when I write a post like this: how will this PR fail affect the company? 

Honestly? The past few years have granted us more PR mishaps and blunders than I  ever could have cared to have seen and too many a time have I wrote about them. More often than not saying: “this could be the end of *company*.” Do I think this for Build-A-Bear? I actually don’t. This campaign (or should I say disaster) was certainly one for the books of how not to run a promotion. But, to me it was nothing more than a PR-facepalm. I don’t think the company will feel the damage from this blunder long-term. I don’t even think they’ll suffer the short-term consequential backlash from the press or disappointed consumers for much longer either.

PR mishaps can damage a company beyond repair when they’re not managed accordingly; but I think Build-A-Bear have managed to deal with their mistakes in a fair and understanding matter. Crisis management 101: there’s no better solution than to hold your hands up and say “look, we did wrong and we’re sorry”. Team this up with an incentive for forgiveness (like a £12 voucher) and you’re on to a winner.

Failure is the key to success, each misstep teaches us something new. As long as Build-A-Bear can see where they went wrong (and I should hope they can, I mean – it’s pretty transparent) and ensure that they don’t make the same mistakes then I think they’re going to be fine. In fact, let’s call it a learning curve not only for Build-A-Bear but the whole retail industry: don’t make your promotions so good that you cause fights, staff abuse and store closures. Oh and whilst we’re at it, always check through your campaigns meticulously. Get that right and you’re laughin’.

As for what Build-A-Bear should be doing next. I think an apology to their staff should be made their top priority. Nobody is paid enough to suffer emotional and physical abuse at work and when it comes off the back of your employer’s pitfalls – you should be owed an apology even if nothing else. Then, continuing with marketing and social interactions will boost their consumer trust back up and Build-A-Bear will be as successful as it once was in no time at all. Finally, above all else, a word of advice to this company: next time you host a campaign, don’t overdo it. 

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