Bad Ad: The coupon that lied!

$75 off? Sorry. This (fake) coupon makes the Bad Ad list. Image credit: Publix.

$75 off? Sorry. This (fake) coupon makes the Bad Ad list. Image credit: Publix.

When is a Bad Ad not a Bad Ad at all? When it’s not an ad to begin with – but a fake. That’s the case with the “coupon” above, which claims to be from Publix. If you’ve read this far, though, you can probably guess the truth. It’s an imitation coupon with an actual real-world value of zero.

Converged communicators who have studied advertising (ADV2000) and marketing (MAR3023) – or even non-converged communicators who enjoy clipping coupons from Sunday newspapers – probably know all about coupons. They’re a form of sales promotion, designed to encourage consumers to purchase a product or service with the enticement of a lower-than-normal price. And they’re popular. Surf the Internet for a little while and you’ll find any number of websites dedicated to finding and using coupons to get the best deals. The down side, though: All of that coupon excitement provides a potential avenue for scammers and spammers.

That’s where the coupon above comes in. A quick look shows the terms: $75 off a Publix purchase of $80 or more. If a customer spent exactly $80, that would mean a discount of more than 93% off. Can Publix really afford to give customers that kind of discount, even if it is for the “89th anniversary”? Nope. The coupon is a fake, crafted by an online hoaxer as yet unknown, but the near-infinite reach of social media platforms like Facebook (#concomms in action) enabled it to spread very quickly. Before long, a substantial number of social media users had seen the coupon or at least heard about it – enough to pose a potential concern for the Florida-based grocery store.

Not surprisingly, chatter about the fake coupon prompted action by Publix’s public relations department, which quickly set the record straight. The company naturally wished to avoid a blitz of consumers trying to claim discounts with this fabulous-but-fake coupon, and wanted to ward off the potential frustration of having to deny customers in the checkout line. That proactive approach helped to squelch what might have become an unfavorable public relations situation. Consumers also have an interest in staying away from fraudulent deals like this one; customers signing up for the “coupon” online might potentially expose their personal data to spammers or identity thieves. The moral of the story is one that consumers have heard countless times by now: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

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