Surprise and Delight: What it is and Why marketers love it

Brands have been surprising and delighting their customers for centuries. Some better than others. But there’s no better way to turn customers into lifelong superfans than by catching them off-guard (surprise) in a positive manner (delight).

What is it?

Surprise and Delight is a marketing strategy in which companies randomly select an individual or group to receive a gift or experience. It can be a very effective marketing tactic for companies, especially in an age where customers are just one tweet away from brands and vice-versa.

Surprise and Delight campaigns help forge a strong emotional connection between brands and consumers (check out this article by Harvard Business Review that details why surprise is still the #1 marketing tool).

There are several critical elements of a successful Surprise and Delight campaign. It must be authentic and not an attention-seeking mechanism for a brand. That will immediately rub consumers the wrong way.

Most importantly, there must be an unexpected “wow” factor coupled with a personal touch that makes the campaign memorable and relatable. Also, the campaign should naturally spark discussion on social media and through word of mouth.

People who are delighted by the surprise will be excited to spread the word.

Why marketers love it?

There is a ripple effect from this marketing strategy– each recipient of the gift or reward will likely tell his/her network about the experience (sometimes accompanied by a photo). The idea is that the news will spread, especially through the use of social media channels like Twitter or Instagram.

When brands publicly (and randomly) reward their customers, they demonstrate that they genuinely care about their customers, and are offering a new and exciting product/experience. This in turn creates buzz and excitement around the topic.


So, how exactly do you run a Surprise and Delight campaign?


Surprise and Delight Examples


One of the best examples of Surprise and Delight (in a non-social media setting) is the WestJet Christmas Miracle: real-time giving. It’s a very heartwarming video and demonstrates this type of marketing well. In this campaign, WestJet selected a flight on Christmas Eve and rewarded random customers of all age groups with gifts, ranging from a big screen TV to Android tablets.

The video shows Santa Claus on a screen asking the pre-selected group of passengers what their dreams for Christmas are, and as he was doing this, WestJet volunteers noted the responses. 150 WestJet volunteers then went to go purchase some of these items, wrap them, and ship them to the plane’s destination. The reaction of the passengers at the baggage carousel demonstrates the effectiveness of a well-designed Surprise and Delight campaign. This video got 36 million views and arguably, social media saved WestJet.

This also demonstrates that it is important to not only determine who you are going to Surprise and Delight, but also to choose carefully what you will give them and the ideal time frame in which to do so.


MasterCard has also added an element of Surprise and Delight to its 17-year-old Priceless campaign. Justin Timberlake surprised a fan with a jam session at her house–it was unscripted and definitely added that personal touch, which in turn led MasterCard holders to believe they too could have a similar experience.

There’s an emotional element to watching a fan connect with a star and Mastercard #PricelessSuprises campaign captured that. The #PricelessSurprises campaign has also brought pro-golfer Tom Watson riding up to his fans on a golf cart.  So far, MasterCard has surprised 48,133 cardholders.

MasterCard’s chief marketing officer, Raja Rajamannar has been quoted saying that “the success of Priceless is driven by the campaign’s ability to create emotion, influence behavior, unite people and touch upon consumer passions.”

House Of Cards

The second season of House of Cards was released on Netflix on February 14th, 2014. In an effort to engage with fans of the show, The House Of Cards team hosted a Twitter Q&A with some of the actors of the show dubbed #AskHOC. We know this because our very own, Alex Taub, participated in it.

Alex got retweeted by @Houseofcards and even some of the castmates. Then a day later he received a direct message from the @Houseofcards handle asking what his address was. Alex gave it to them and a week or so later Alex received a House Of Cards poster and a pack of House of Cards Against Humanity in the mail. We’re not sure if more people received House of Cards gifts, but this is another example of Surprise and Delight.   GoPro Since we started SocialRank, we noticed that a lot of brands started using our tool to find out who their most engaged, most valuable or best followers are for Surprise and Delight campaigns. Using the data that the SocialRank tool provides, these brands are able to more accurately find these loyal customers to reward. For example, when we launched on February 25th, GoPro used us to figure out who, out of all their followers, would be the best candidate to surprise and delight.

GoPro found @DavidDiFrance, an avid @GoPro fan and rewarded him with a new GoPro camera. Without any requests, when David received the camera in the mail he posted a photo on Instagram, inciting tremendous authentic brand engagement: 800+ likes and 30+ comments on Instagram in less than 48 hours.

GoPro is no slouch on their own. They also have an amazing campaign called “Everything We Make Giveaway.” One person wins everything they make, every day. All you need to do is enter your first name, last name, email address, twitter handle and location and you have a shot at winning everything GoPro makes. Pretty rad. The company announces the winner on Twitter every day.

Go Out And Do Good

As you can see, these brands are doing something right by their customers. Whether you are an airline and decide (just because) to upgrade one person a day. Or you are a sports team and surprise a fan by inviting him to the locker room to meet the players. Surprise and Delight works. It helps turn fans of your brand into superfans and evangelists of your brand. There are very affordable ways for brands to start today and make customer service/support a top priority. So what are you waiting for? Surprise and Delight your customers, followers, and fans today!

Alex Taub

Co-founder of SocialRank

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