Was Cafe Festival mis-marketed?

Over the weekend, an event known as Cafe Festival saw itself in hot water as its Facebook page was flooded with negative comments from its event goers.

The festival, which was aimed at allowing cafe-hoppers to try many cafes and bakeries exclusively once they bought a pass, has been bombarded with angry users.

The event, created by PR firm Tell Great Little Stories (TGLS), was criticised for its poor planning and being mis-marketed. Initially the event promoted itself as the “World’s first cafe-hopping street”and was based on exclusivity where only pass holders were entitled to join. The pop-up cafe fest had bakeries such as Tiong Bahru Bakery, Toby’s Estate, Common Man Coffee Roasters and others participating in the festival.

The event also drew in 32 sponsors including brands such as Subaru, OCBC, Fred Perry, Spotify, Banana Boat.

According to The Straits Times, nearly a thousand people bought the SG$30 VIP passes, which entitled them priority queues at stalls and a VIP area. Meanwhile, others bought normal passes for SG$25.

However, many complained that those without passes were also able to buy the food.

A quick check on the event site showed that the event organisers did in fact position the VIP area as one which is “limited” and “operating on a first come, first served basis.”

“We’re very strict on who gets to enter so please ensure your friends and family coming with you are all VIPs, if not you’ll be the only one in there and trust us, you’ll have no second thoughts about leaving everyone behind,” it said.

Marketing spoke to one event goer, Michelle Weers, 24, who said despite the strict guidelines it said on its site, the VIP area was filled with a lot of non-VIP pass holders and even members of the public.

“There was zero security control on who gets access to the area. Many stalls also ran out of food with some closing as early as 430pm on Saturday when the fest ends at 8pm. Cafe Fest 2014 was a huge disappointment as the event organisers did not deliver what was promised,” Weers said.

Meanwhile, Deborah Leo, 29 added that she felt cheated and “would not be trusting this event company” in the future. Like Weers she also questioned why the organisers did not brief the stalls on the number of tickets sold resulting in the shortage of food.

Following the PR disaster on the first day of the event, the organisers quickly realised that they needed to tighten the rules for the event.

Yesterday, event organisers posted on the Facebook page:

“We were taking in all your feedback and we wanted to see how we could make things better. We recognise the oversight with our communications regarding who can and cannot buy F&B on our website as we were too caught up with the preparations that we didn’t clarify this point with you. That’s our mistake and we would like to apologise to all of you.

[…]We conceptualised this festival with the best of intentions, and we’re extremely disappointed we fell short of your expectations. We know this may not put all of you at ease, but we do apologise and will continue to do our best to address all your concerns.”

The team also promised to make changes when it comes to VIP express queues at certain cafes for VIP pass holders and tighter management of access to VIP tent.

On the note, it also added that to create more value for pass holders, non-pass holders will need to pay $2 to $3 more than pass holders for the food purchased. This angered the public further with one Facebook commentor saying:

“If the public has to pay $2-3 more to get the food, they may as well go to the cafes directly and what has that got to do with pass holders? We are still paying $30 for food without discounts! What’s the use of paying for tickets then?”

On the matter, the event organisers said: “As some who attended Saturday’s session might not come for Sunday’s, the team is working out some form of compensation.”

Marketing has reached out to the event organisers and sponsors for comments.

Hannah Tan, deputy general manager – group marketing div, Motor Image Enterprises, representing platinum sponsor Subaru said:

“Café Festival is about promoting and supporting creativity, entrepreneurship and the rising café scene in Singapore. We feel that these events serve as an excellent opportunity to nurture future entrepreneurs in Singapore and are always on the lookout to partner with such events. Subaru sponsored the event based on the good intentions behind the festival. Although it was unfortunate that the event did not go
as planned, we hope that this will be a key learning for future events.”

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