So, unless you’ve been living under a rock, with your eyes and ears closed to the outside world for the past few weeks, you’ll be more than aware that today is a momentous day for coffee fans across the UK, as the 1st October is Free Coffee Day, courtesy of dominant coffee brand, Costa Coffee. Available at over 8,500 participating Costa Express machines nationwide, the offer kicked off at 00:15am and ends at 00:15 tomorrow, Wednesday 2nd October 2019.

I am a big Costa fan, in fact before today became known as #CostaTuesday, some colleagues from the Wonderful Team and I coined it as an internal thing, a pre-work jaunt to celebrate Monday being over and the start of another busy Tuesday in the studio. However, taking my Costa-Fan-cap off for a minute, there are substantial benefits to Costa running a promotion like this – I mean, giving away literally thousands and thousands of cups of coffee from their express machines is surely going to cost them a fortune, right? Well, this may seem like an expensive stunt, but Scott Martin, managing director of Costa Express, explained the thinking behind it:

“The coffee industry is booming with no sign of our love affair with the drink slowing, as it’s estimated 95 million cups are consumed a day. However, for years, self-serve drinks machines have carried a certain stigma. Freeze-dried coffee, long life milk, clumpy soups and bland hot chocolate were readily stocked in machines across the late 90s and early 00s, so we can imagine how one poor experience is enough to put someone off for life.”

Free Costa Coffee today 1st October

It’s clearly about changing perceptions. Something which, in the UK at least, can be a huge challenge when people are stuck in their ways, with little or no motivation to change their opinion. Martin continued:

“We at Costa Express don’t believe this is acceptable and have worked tirelessly to revolutionise the self-serve experience. Our machines serve the same fresh signature Mocha Italia coffee beans and fresh semi-skimmed milk you would expect in our Costa Coffee stores, so the quality of your experience is never compromised. We’re so confident that once you’ve tried a cup from Costa Express that it’ll fast become a regular part of your routine, so for one day only, we’re giving away a free drink to all.”

There’s been no visibly huge investment in supporting print or OOH advertising on this one. And quite frankly, there hasn’t needed to be – they’ve got the power of social media and the wider press at their fingertips! Outside of print media and TV/radio news picking the story up, the news of this has spread organically (bordering on virally) with tweets like this gaining huge traction and engagement, with people looking to share the news by tagging in their friends, amplifying even further:

So what’s the return for Costa? They’ve arguably spent a small fortune on giving away stock for a 24hr period, what can they expect to achieve from this?

Well, firstly, the mechanism promotes coffee lovers to register for their Coffee Club loyalty scheme and to download their app to start collecting points towards more free coffee, and here the clue is in the name. Loyalty. They are making a genuine attempt to not only enhance people’s opinions of the ‘Express’ machine-delivered products, but to capture new customers (and their valuable data) in the process, creating a new loyal audience in the process.

Then there’s the competition – there’s sure to be a huge proportion of customers visiting Costa Express machines today, rather than crossing the threshold in their usual coffee shop including rivals like Starbucks and Caffe Nero. It really is a multi-faceted array of little victories for the low CPA (cost per acquisition) of a cup (or two) of coffee at their stock cost-price.

As I look across our office right now, I can see a Costa cup on every desk. Imagine this multiplied across the nation. As far as product placement goes, you’d be hard pushed to avoid seeing that famous Costa Coffee cup and logo at least a few times today! Subliminally endorsing the brand and implanting it at the back of your mind for the next time you need a caffeine boost. This effect is amplified even further across social media, as people ‘boast’ about taking advantage of the free coffee, bolstering the numbers on hashtags like #FreeCoffee #FreeCoffeeDay and #ThanksCosta into the hundreds of thousands.

In addition, people taking advantage of knabbing a free drink and scanning the app at POS in the process will also be entered into a prize draw, with a top prize of free Costa Coffee for a year! Another incentive to register (giving up your valuable data in the process) and download the app. Customer data here is a big victory. Everyone who downloads the app, and registers, is willingly giving Costa the opportunity to market to them again and again. In fact, their email marketing is quite sophisticated. Knowing my aforementioned “Costa Tuesday” buying pattern, I often get email both before and after my visit to ensure I go, and trying to get me to return a second time that day with an extra bonus points offer. In fact, since collecting my Free Coffee today, they’ve emailed me with what I often call a ‘bounce-back’ offer, driving return business and custom with yet another incentive to go back in the form of bonus loyalty points. They’re literally manipulating me into becoming a loyal customer, regardless of my brand loyalty, making it part of my routine to return later this week. Smart cookies (both figuratively, and ‘edibly’).

Costa return bounceback offer promotion

This all comes as Costa clearly look to ramp up their more diversified portfolio of products outside of their traditional coffee shop offering, having run a huge launch campaign in August for their canned cold-brew coffee offerings. This campaign, clearly driven by their recent acquisition by drinks giant Coca-Cola, saw Costa take over the iconic Picadilly Circus signage, renowned for being dominated by their new parent company, as part of an integrated marketing campaign featuring out-of-home, digital, PR and sampling.

Free Costa Cold Coffee Picadilly Circus

If there was ever an example of mixing more guerilla, low-cost, stunt based campaigns with larger scale, traditional OOH marketing; all wrapped up and enhanced by digital channels like PPC, website and Social Media, Costa are flying the flag. It will be interesting to see the results and statistics they publish after the event is over, but I think anyone would confidently predict a proportionally larger-than-average increase in website traffic, app downloads, cups served and loyalty scheme customer acquisition; along with long-term customer gains.

Bravo Costa, bravo.

If you want to explore opportunities to exploit creative marketing campaigns like this, get in touch and speak to a member of our team about how to bring commercially viable ideas like this to life for your business.


Author: James Gray, Head of Digital, Wonderful.

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