Last week, hotel reservations website Wotif.com launched a surprise discount sale of $11 dollars for 11 minutes to celebrate the portal’s 11th anniversary. Announced on the portal’s website, as well as Facebook and Twitter pages, Wotif drew immense anticipation from consumers eagerly awaiting the magic 11-minutes on 24th March.

The sale came and went, and in what seemed like a blink of an eye, Wotif’s social networking pages were flooded with comments on their marketing stunt. While there were the occasional happy gratitudes from customers lucky enough to snap up a cheap hotel stay, most of the posts consisted of angry rants from consumers who were unable to access the website due to heavy traffic, or who were unhappy that the 11 minutes occurred during ‘school-run’ times.

Other portals, such as Jetstar.com.au and group-buying coupon website Groupon.com do similar short-term sales on a regular basis. According to John Georgas, senior account director at Tribe, the aim of these promotions is to create awareness, particularly for brands that are often associated with a USP centred on value or savings. “These promos are used to highlight this USP with a frenzy of localized activity which ideally reaffirms the benefits of the brand to consumers, even if they do not participate.”

“For example, consumers may be aware that Jetstar frequently does great deals even though they have never been involved with one. Therefore, the next time the consumer does need a good deal on a flight, that company springs to mind. These promotions create a great ‘roll on’ or halo effect’,” says Georgas.

However, with the negative backlash that Wotif received from dissatisfied consumers who did not manage to purchase their next cheap hotel stay, comments on Facebook and Twitter showed that the company had left many disappointed.

In order to avoid bad publicity or customer dissatisfaction, Georgas advices that companies “need to apply the ‘fair play’ policy, where there is a level of transparency around their offer. These days, consumers are extremely savvy, so if companies have an opportunity to engage them, they must be direct and honest.”

“The social network space is a fickle one. If you have a strong call to action that brings them in, you had better be able to back it up,” Georgas tells companies looking to engage in similar promotions.

At the same time, Georgas warns that companies must ensure they have the correct infrastructure to fulfill their promises as customers who are enticed with a great proposition but let down at the finish line can potentially turn against the brand.