LISTEN: Promotional campaign includes free cruise to nowhere

LISTEN: Promotional campaign includes free cruise to nowhere

The offer was simple: sign a two-year cellphone contract and get a free cruise. What could go wrong?

Cruise ship
Getty Images

Listen to Wendy's on-air segment or read the full story below the podcast.

Well, a lot, as it turns out.

If ever there was a promotion guaranteed to get people signing a cellphone contract it was one involving a free cruise. Not sign up and you could win a cruise - sign a 24-month contract and you will go on a luxury three-day, two-night MSC cruise, for a family of four, departing from Durban, worth R8000.

That was service provider Glocell’s advertised offer.  

When Autopage closed down, Cell C appointed GloCell as its service agent for its Autopage Cell C subscribers, and the company wanted what it calls “a worthy and bold promotional campaign to mark the nomination. And the “sign up, then cruise” offer was it, running from mid-March to mid-June last year. 

GloCell appointed TLC Marketing Worldwide to manage the cruise promotion. The response was huge. GloCell calls it “an enthusiastic uptake”.

A total of 3 471 customers registered with TLC for the cruise promotion, which, GloCell said, “meant that it took longer for TLC to process the registrations and applications and led to some frustration.” Those almost 3500 excited people were told to wait until November to attempt to book for a cruise.

Aruna Ishwarlall gave Consumerwatch some idea of their frustration in January: “It is extremely difficult to get hold of any Glocell member on the phone as you hold on for longer than an hour and when you do get through to someone they transfer you and you are placed on hold for more than 30 minutes until the call cuts off.”

Why only 1024 vouchers delivered? GoCell explains 

GloCell told Consumerwatch that 748 of those 3471 customers who registered for the cruise didn’t quality because their accounts were in arrears or their lines had been deactivated, leaving 2 723 customers who qualified for the promotional cruise vouchers.

“Unfortunately,” said GloCell’s marketing exec, Sheila Nankervis, despite TLC’s commitment to provide 25 000 cruise vouchers, it could only deliver 1024 of them, leaving almost 1700 people cruise-less.

All paying for their contracts every month and feeling cheated. GloCell bought 648 extra promotional cruise vouchers directly from MSC, but that still leaves more than 1051 people without the free cruise they were promised.

GloCell cruise promotion

Natasha's cruise booking

 Natasha Rampiari of Queensburgh is one of many who followed all the required steps, but four months later, she still doesn’t have confirmation of a cruise booking. She’s been told she has a booking on a cruise at the end of November, and that she’ll get the confirmation later this month, but she’s not convinced that will happen, having been strung along since November, she says.

As for those more than 1000 people who qualify for the cruise, but aren’t getting one, GloCell has offered them an R8000 discount on their GloCell accounts, despite the fact that the company is not obliged to, Nankervis said, because the promotion was advertised as “subject to promotional availability”.

None of the cruise-less GloCell customers I’ve interacted with had that “out” mentioned to them as they were signing their contracts.

Natasha’s cousin Kate Govender is among those who has been offered that R8000 discount, instead of the cruise, which is why she signed up, but it was the cruise promise which led to her signing the contract.

ALSO READ: LISTEN - Shrinkflation: How to make sure you’re getting the best deal

For Kate and the other 1050 people and their families, who are not destined to get  their three-day cruise, the so-called “Cruise to Nowhere” has been cruelly appropriate.

At least if they chose to cancel their contracts, they won’t have to pay the usual hefty cancellation penalty. Nankervis said the R8000 credited to their account would offset any early cancellation penalty.

I’m no marketing expert, but to my mind this whole debacle could have been avoided if the offer had been limited: Such as: “Free cruise to the first 1500 people to sign a contract get a free cruise.”

A promotional campaign can’t be called worthy and bold if more than 1000 people became customers on the basis of a free cruise that was then denied to them.

Show's Stories