Ronn TorossianRonn Torossian

Sometimes, successful marketing and PR campaigns—even very popular ones—have to be put on hold due to conditions in the market. This reality was behind the decision convenience store chain 7-Eleven considered when looking ahead to one of the brand’s most popular annual promotions: Free Slurpee Day.

Back in 2002, 7-Eleven stores debuted what has become a very popular one-day event, held on July 11 (7/11) each year. Every customer gets a free Slurpee. Millions love the frozen drinks and feel they’re the perfect refresher in the midst of a hot summer. And Free Slurpee Day has easily become the company’s busiest day of the year, according to 7-Eleven Senior VP and chief marketing officer Marissa Jarratt.

This year, though, with social distancing guidelines still in place from coast to coast, 7-Eleven stores don’t want to create those kinds of crowds or put their customers at risk of contracting COVID-19. Plus, the stores have strict cleanliness and expanded sanitation protocols they have to keep in place. So, the decision was made to, essentially, skip Free Slurpee Day.

But there’s a catch that, Jarratt says, many customers will appreciate. 7Rewards loyalty program members will not miss out on their free Slurpee. In fact, they’ll receive a coupon for a free Slurpee that may be used once on any day in July.

In making this announcement, 7-Eleven took the opportunity to make a statement about the company’s other charitable efforts, helping communities get back on their feet as they deal with the pandemic outbreak. The company plans to donate one million free meals to Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the U.S.

In a statement to the media about canceling Free Slurpee Day, Jarratt said, “Gathering nine million of our closest friends in stores on one day just didn’t feel right, but I am heartened that we now have the opportunity to help the communities and neighborhoods that have been the lifeline of our business since 1927 …”

From a consumer PR perspective, there are a lot of positives to point out in 7-Eleven’s message here. First, it addresses a question many Slurpee fans are likely wondering about. The entire country understands the social distancing restrictions mean changes to our daily lives, and some are speaking out about mass gatherings. Getting out ahead of these concerns and answering this question is a good move for 7-Eleven.

The company also chose to cancel a popular event, but not take it away completely. Encouraging people to sign up for their loyalty program to receive the free Slurpee allows 7-Eleven to make a consumer connection while also fulfilling an expected customer perk. This is a win-win. The customers gets what they want, and the company is able to maintain its protocols in response to the pandemic, while forming a deeper connection with many customers.

Best of all, 7-Eleven was able to use this opportunity, which definitely grabbed headlines, to announce larger and more meaningful charitable efforts to help communities where their stores are located. This shows that the company is a responsible community partner looking out for both the wants and the needs of its customers. That’s a very positive consumer-facing presentation, all around.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, the 2020 American Business Awards PR agency of the year.