Women don't mess around when it comes to sharing a deal, and that was proven last night when in a matter of hours, throngs from across the country redeemed a free promo code for an $89 bra from the Vibrant Body Company.
Despite being a definitely-too-good-to-be-true offer, even logical-minded professionals like myself snagged one, passing on my good fortune (AKA the promo code) to friends and family. I mean, can't we all use a nice new bra? The more I looked at the Vibrant Body website and studied the bra I would be receiving, the more excited I got. Not only did it look extremely supportive while being wireless, but it also was 100 percent non-toxic, which I never even knew I had to worry about. At least a dozen friends of mine also lucked out by using the code, all successfully ordering their respective bras within minutes of receiving the message.
By the time morning came, my free bra elation became sheer panic as I received texts from friends asking if I had seen “the bra scam" that I had unwittingly subjected them to. I was instructed to go to Vibrant Body's website and see what people were saying, and to let them know what the hell was going on. On the website, I found some of the most strange, angry and even violent comments I've ever seen on an undergarment brand website. To summarize the overarching sentiment expressed there, most who redeemed a free bra believed they were now sold off to some sort of home invasion/human trafficking corporation that would show up at their door using the bra delivery as a ruse. Without questioning this stretch of an allegation (but maybe a good storyline for Taken 4?), free bra seekers across the country doubled down to protect themselves, posting ominous warnings that anyone sent by the company to kidnap them would be met by gunshots, dogs and cops.
Photo Courtesy of Snopes
“Police have been notified of this scam," wrote one particularly heated hand-out redeemer. “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DELIVER ANYTHING TO MY HOUSE OR TRY A HOME INVASION YOU WONT [sic] MAKE IT BACK OUT THE DOOR."
Others were more direct about their threats. Take non-paying “customer" named Shotgun In My Hand who posted a one star review along with this message; “Come on over to my house, we all have shot guns [sic], and my two neighbors are big burly police officers. We will meet you with a party. With Love from Chicago... even the President is scared of this City. Keep that in mind."
And the vitriol continued like this, for over 100 pages…“If y'all show up at my house in independence, ky [sic] trying to kidnap me, I promise you will be met with my AR-15," expressed another displeased customer. “PLEASE LADIES, DO NOT FALL FOR THIS. I didn't think anything of it, the website looks so clean and well put together. MAJOR SCAM."
“If someone really wants to come to my house to rob me I wish them luck if my dog doesn't eat them I have a few things laying around that will put someone in a body bag," wrote another heated would-be patron. “Just fyi."
Another freebie-seeker touted both guns and dogs. “I got word this is a scam to come and invade your house or try and kidnap for human trafficking," she wrote. “Well I have my glock loaded at all times and my aggressive dog who is trained to attack on command so try me. I will be waiting. I'm always on high alert."
Meanwhile, Best Not Try My House added “I got an AR-15 and those thing kill people by themselves so I'd watch out coming to my house cause my ass will sit on the couch while it does my dirty work. RIP in advance!"For her part, a user named Ready For Your Ass!!!!!!! (complete with no less than five exclamation marks) spoke equally directly, “Now we waiting on your ass!!!!! Give Us a reason to pop your ass!!!! Thank God there's a cop that stay [sic] by me!!!!! And he's already waiting on the delivery!!!!!!"
Some of the most entertaining -and bewildering- comments I came across included both threats of violence in retaliation for being sold into human trafficking, alongside firm demands that the bras still be delivered.
“If this is a scam and I see any weird shit going on around or on my property, you will be walking away with my husband's boot up your ass and a swift kick in the balls! So go ahead, I'll be waiting," wrote one such customer, who clearly still wanted her free bra. “On another note if I really do get my bra, I'm sorry I'm advance & hey thanks!"
“Better not be a scam to get addresses cause if this is don't say I didn't warn u," wrote another. “I carry a very large gun with me at all times so don't think ur just going to walk up to my house and think about grabbing anyone!!! But if it's not a scam and I do get the bra I ordered then u will have a repeat customer for sure! Fingers crossed this is a good company!!!! Will post a review if I get the bra and try it."Another customer, ominously named Try It, echoed the sentiment. “I really hope this isn't a scam. But just know that my family is not scared to protect ourselves. [sic] You have been warned. Try any funny stuff, and see what happens. Drop the bra off at the end of the drive and keep moving."
I wish I could say I immediately knew the whole thing was hogwash with zero doubts, but as I continued reading the incensed, threatening reviews, I started to worry if indeed there was some truth to any of it. I called my sister and told her the bra we ordered may cause us to be kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery (fully realizing how crazy I sounded as the words came out of my mouth), and she scoffed. “OK, why are you telling me this? I'm at work," she said. “I don't know," I replied earnestly. “It's just what's happening on the internet." She then told me she had to go, but not before saying “I hate the internet."
Once I came to my senses and realized this digitized panic was nothing more than what happens in a world sadly lacking in fact checking, replete with fake news and where the far-reaching internet reigns. Although it was over 70 years ago, I immediately thought of Orson Wells' 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, which created a similar frenzied reaction, leaving many to believe that aliens had invaded the United States. The bottom line is panic incites panic, and the anger left by each of the commenters was very real, as they had truly convinced themselves that they were now being targeted by some sort of evildoer. This earnestness in reaction is what spurs such a chain effect, as it becomes a contagious 'fight or flight' state of mind.
As it turns out, the leaked promo code (WCRF 2018, which stood for the World Cancer Research Fund) from Vibrant Body was actually meant for a small group of cancer "supporters" to get a free bra, which somehow was leaked. SWAAY reached out for commentary and was told by a company representative that they had released a statement to address the issue:
“Thank you ever so kindly for your patience and support of Breast Health," it says on Vibrant Body's Facebook page. “The promotional code that was leaked, as many of you have pointed out is only valid for a small group of Breast Cancer supporters at an event held in Los Angeles a few days ago. This viral activity has been a bit overwhelming, however, please know that in the next few hours we will be addressing this matter more formally."The statement went on to assure consumers that their information was secure, and any payment information that was inadvertently entered would be refunded. Once it became clear that the coupon codes were meant for a select group of people, many women again took to the digital waves to offer support, five star reviews to offset the one star reactions to human trafficking, and requests that their orders be canceled, and the bras disseminated to the appropriate people. Some of these more enlightened comments included:
“Do you guys seriously think a sex trafficker is going to come alllll [sic] around the world to get thousands of you. ALSO all of you saying 'delete my info' if it was a sex trafficker YOU ALREADY PUT YOUR INFO IN I'm sure they wouldn't be nice enough to go delete the addresses of the women that are threatening them. Anyways, I'm glad this bra was made for a good cause, and it's very unfortunate that their code got out and now all these nut jobs are threatening them."
Another user posted her support; “May God Bless your company for helping Breast cancer survivors! I hope that the sheer ignorance of some of these comments does not stop you from helping in the future. Karma will come to those that are to [sic] stupid to research and then make threats to your company, and Shame on the one/ones who leaked the code. If you ordered and do not have breast cancer... Kindly Return the bra. Keep up the good work Vibrant! God Bless!"
Despite the mea culpa, some Facebook users still were a little uneasy about the whole thing. One such person shared her concern that she was being watched by the well-connected human trafficking conglomerate: “Can I just say as much as I want to believe this and looking at stuff it seems like a legit company however someone was outside my house in their [sic] car taking pictures and then drove by (the same direction) again with the windows fully rolled up super slow. We only have one way in and out of our neighborhood. Super sketchy wish I got their license plate number."
Whether or not the whole fiasco is good or bad for business remains to be seen, but one thing can be said with certainty; many more prospective wireless bra customers now know of the small Milwaukee-based undergarment brand with a philanthropic mission. Because they also went through the scandal alongside the brand, viewing first-hand its vulnerability, many said they would like to further support the brand by purchasing a bra in the future. Although the brand would not reveal exactly how many women signed up for the free bra, or how many email addresses they collected (or what they plan to do with them), it's clear that a viral brand fiasco is not always a bad thing. It's all about how you react, and which consumers you retain after the dust settles.
“Fraud is ubiquitous in business," says startup expert, Gregg Garnick. “There is no doubt about this. However, I am a firm believer that good people, honest people attract other good, honest people. Certainly there are always a few bad apples but in business if you are honest, hard-working and treat people with respect at every level is the best insurance against running into these bad apples."
The truth is, in a world where promo codes and digital coupons are powerful incentives for customer purchase, snafus are to be expected. Companies like Ralph Lauren, Toys 'R Us and Dominos, have all dealt with similar issues, reporting that ultimately the negative viral attention was not ultimately bad for business.
In March 2014, Ralph Lauren unintentionally gave customers a whopping 65 percent off employee discount after the code was leaked on Twitter. The company honored most of the purchases made with the code, but, canceled the outrageously expensive buys (like $1,000 handbags and $5,700 chandeliers). Another company that dealt with a major leak is Toys 'R Us during the 2017 holiday season. The toy distributor had a few promotional codes released, prompting parents everywhere to quickly fill up their carts for under tree treats. Unlike Ralph Lauren, Toys 'R Us, who filed bankruptcy just months prior to the incident, did not honor the discount and instead canceled orders, resulting in some angry parents and plenty of online trolling.
Meanwhile, Dominos had a more personal incident when 26-year-old Tom Church released vouchers for every single Dominos in the UK. Church spent three months getting discount codes for over 800 of the pizza chain stores and decided to share his research with the world via Facebook. A spokesperson from Domino's, said: "We work hard to get our voucher codes out to valued customers as well as raising money for our charity partner Teenage Cancer Trust. So we're pleased Tom is helping people enjoy the great taste of our freshly handmade pizza, while donating to charity, it would be great to hear how much he raises!" Well that;s one way to handle it!
Garnick's time-tested advice for all those coupon code miners in search of free goods? “When something is too good to be true it most likely is."
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.