Jul 13, 2018

Build-A-Bear goes viral

written by Anya Amrith
Optimised Build A Bear Header

Build-A-Bear goes viral


Over the last couple of days, it’s likely that every parent in the UK/US has heard about the Build-A-Bear promotion. Hoard’s of people (and their children) rushed out to the stores to get their kiddos a cuddly that was part of the ‘Pay your age’ promotion. Queues were massive – going up to a 3+ hour wait. And people waited (mostly). There were riots. No one wanted to leave without their cuddly ol’ bear.

It was the first time that this promotion had ever been run, and judging by the severe popularity it looks like Build-A-Bear may think twice about running it again. The concept was simple:

Register on the website to become a Build-A-Bear bonus club member, go in store, make your bear and simply pay the age of your child.

Here’s a closer look at why the promotion fell down on its cuddly little knees, and what we think the consequences are:

The perceived value of Build-A-Bear

If you have a little one or if you’ve bought a present for someone from Build-A-Bear, you’ll know that they’re not cheap. The actual cuddly isn’t too bad, but it’s the extras that pile up on your bill. Want a little heart for your bear? Extra. Personalised voice message? Extra. Adorable little outfit? Extra. Shoes? Extra. Passport, sunglasses, handbag or even a car as an example of some of the accessories available – yes, you guessed it, all extra.

By the time you come to pay for your cuddly little friend you’re looking at around £40+, depending on how many clothes and accessories your cuddly needs.

No wonder taking a child to Build-A-Bear is usually a treat – it’s unlikely to be a regular purchase, unless you’re just going in to add accessories. Because, you know, a cuddly friend needs more than just one outfit.

When people saw the chance to get a Build-A-Bear at just a fraction of the price, everyone wanted one. Why pay £40+ when you can pay a tiny amount for the same quality product, and ANY kind of cuddly of your choice.

Kids love to play make believe

I have kids, so I completely understand the appeal of Build-A-Bear. I’ve taken them in before and seen their eyes light up as they see a cuddly being made with love. Understandably, it’s like magic to them – being able to adopt your very own cuddly and bring it to life with the endless supply of clothes and accessories. You can create a mini-me based on your own interests. You give it a name, you get a certificate and your new little friend is officially ‘born’.  What child wouldn’t want that? Quite frankly, it’s hard for adults not to contain their excitement either.

So, with the chance to offer their child this amazing, joyful experience, it’s no surprise that parents jumped at the chance to see their kids happy as they bring their very own bear to life.

Mum’s spread bargains like wildfire

I’m not kidding, I’m a mum, and I know how fast and powerful the ‘mum word of mouth’ is. Mum’s unite in forums, groups, meetups both in real-life and over social media. Don’t underestimate the power of ‘mum word of mouth’ marketing.

As soon as one mum sees an offer of value, it’s usually posted in forums and communicated to fellow mum’s they know. We’re a very connected network, and mum’s trust other mums so be very careful what you wish for.

Staff weren’t prepared

There were lots of complaints about staff giving different feedback over the phone to parents. Some stores said only some bears were part of the promotion, others said it was all of them. This obviously caused quite a bit of confusion and upset.

Having worked in large corporate companies, I know when Marketing campaigns are run nationally (and internationally in this case) it’s usually created centrally from the internal Marketing department. It’s a difficult process to get all stores to understand every single element of the campaign – it requires solid communication before the promotion starts (usually from the Marketing department to Area Managers). Sadly, and as I’ve seen from experience, this communication usually doesn’t exist.

Most of the time, stores are sent promotional bits. They put up the posters and put out the props. Some staff members in stores don’t receive any further communication at all – it’s seen as a ‘head office’ thing that they have to do. This is normally where campaign’s fail, as was the case with Build-A-Bear. Store members were simply unprepared and overwhelmed by the people reacting to the campaign, and this may have been avoidable if the opinion of store staff had been asked via market research prior to the campaign. After all, team members at stores know the customers best – they see and talk to them every day.

We’re all talking about Build-A-Bear

Despite the fact that there have been negative news stories about the events surrounding the massive queues, and the CEO having to personally apologise, the fact remains that we’re all talking about Build-A-Bear. Whether the publicity is good or bad, it’s still publicity.

Are people likely to avoid future Build-A-Bear promotions? Maybe. Are people likely to never visit Build-A-Bear again? Very unlikely. Will it encourage people to visit Build-A-Bear in the near future, because it’s planted a seed in their mind? Most likely.


Despite the bad experiences that many had – Build-A-Bear still sell a product that’s in demand. And, quite frankly, they’ve just pushed their branding to the forefront of everyone’s minds. It might be unintentional, the ‘Pay your age’ promotion may not have been executed properly, but I don’t see that as a total loss.