Sites crash, especially when a new product launch creates a massive leap in traffic compared to usual demand. Two sites notably crashed recently: startup Jeffree Star Cosmetics and veteran brand Pringles. While this looks like a disastrous website failure — and may be, fundamentally — it can also create considerable opportunities for brands.

Is this all a disaster for either (or any) brand? No! Potential benefits to “breaking the internet” include:

  1. Media coverage as the disaster unfolds. Brands may receive considerably more attention because of the issues than they would have when their new line was the only news. Read on for incredible examples!
  2. The general impression of rarity and desirability. The site failure seems to prove that the product was sought after and that the company couldn’t even keep up with the demand — which creates incredible demand!
  3. Increased likelihood of selling out. It is difficult to manage this so that 100% sell-through is achieved the day of launch without leaving too much money on the table in additional orders. But this is an awesome feat and even better for seasonal products that will have zero value in a matter of days. Leftover seasonal products do not spark the same joy as leftover turkey for Friday’s sandwiches.
  4. The opportunity to use an “oops” campaign. Every digital retailer that’s on top of their promotional plan has one of these in their pocket. Things happen, and it’s critical to be prepared — but more than that, those apology emails have a great open rate and consumers know there will be an offer inside, which is a great conversion boost!


So What Happened? Two Very Different Brands Crashed Their Own Sites In The First Week Of This Month

Case 1: Makeup Moguls Melt Down

We are squarely in the age of the influencer (read all about it), and a pair of trendsetting entrepreneurs managed to prove this fact while simultaneously breaking the internet. Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson are YouTube stars with 16 and 23 million subscribers, respectively. Their much-anticipated collab makeup line, Jeffree Star Cosmetics, launched November 1 with products available IRL (at brick-and-mortar store Morphe) and online via the fledgling company’s website.

However, the website crumbled under the volume of traffic on Friday. Shoppers found the items in their carts going out of stock before they could complete their orders. Pages didn’t load, error messages abounded, and masses of fans lost their minds. Fans took to Twitter with reactions that included worried questions (“Is it just me?”), panic-stricken meme posting, and concern that even completed orders wouldn’t be honored.

The two YouTube celebs were devastated and very vocal about their feelings.

While the hosted commerce platform might seem like an easy target to blame for what looks like a disaster, let’s get some perspective . . .

  1. By the end of the day, many products had sold out, sparking promises from the pair of replenishment conversations with manufacturers. (This is a supply-and-demand dream come true.)
  2. These things happen. It’s not even that uncommon.
  3. It can be a benefit! (See above.)

Case 2: Chips Dip Into A Leftover Playbook

In an unrelated but similarly “disastrous” event, Pringles dropped its official Pringles Turducken Friendsgiving Feast kit last Wednesday. It included six celebratory flavors of the snack food: turducken (turkey, duck, and chicken), stuffing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce — and it brought the website to its knees even before it went live. (No, it wasn’t the same provider, so don’t sharpen your pitchforks.)

Here’s the thing — this is the third year in a row that Pringles has offered a version of this kit. So what happened this year? Did it just make too few? Was the website surprisingly ill-equipped? Doubtful! The same thing happened last year: unresponsive website, frustrated customers . . . product sold out the same day.

Here’s the website today:

Banner on saying sold out, 20% off next order.

When this happens again and again, we have to assume it’s not a mistake — it’s a plan.

Once again, customers took to Twitter to voice their dismay, from angry mistrust to superstitious hope (and sadness). For some, the “oops” discount offer message was just insulting. It’s important to remember that experiences like this have the potential to damage loyalty rather than build it.

Hopefully, Pringles fans will be able to look past their disappointment . . . oh, hey! Look at that — the roasted turkey flavor (clearly the most marketable of the six) is actually going to be a limited-edition flavor in storesI have another chance to get my hands on them?? Thanks, Pringles!

BONUS RECOMMENDATIONS: If Brands Genuinely Want To Avoid The Drama, They Should:

  1. Work with providers to make sure they’re prepared to handle a massive increase in traffic and demand. New product launches, much-anticipated limited-edition products, and similarly crowd-pleasing, time-sensitive things should be carefully executed.
  2. Remember to think about the less technical side of demand. Services like call centers and ancillary channels might wind up with collateral traffic as a result of the primary channel’s adventures or misadventures. Make sure all providers have ample warning and are prepared for the potential onslaught.
  3. Be prepared for things to go wrong, with a Plan B locked and loaded. Things happen all the time. If you’re the victim of a technology malfunction or human error, launch that “oops” campaign, offer your customers a consolation prize, and move on.
  4. Make sure not to abuse their fans. You can’t get away with this frequently (the Pringles example notwithstanding). It’s an incredible experience and creates a lot of customers who get to “win” when they manage to get their hands on the products. But too much hype, too frequently, with too little product will create frustration and resentment, not loyalty.