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."
Victoria's Secret is best known for what it has to offer women. However, a few days ago as I was strolling around the flagship store on Bond Street, I discovered that the store also has a lot to offer men as well. Just not exactly what you'd think.
My experience began like many other shopping excursions, casually browsing for a few practical items. The store was bustling with women who were relaxed but focused on their own purchases. The women in the store all displayed a quiet confidence in knowing what to do and how to do it. My browsing journey took me into another room where I noticed a man behaving quite awkwardly while being guided around by one of the many well-trained twenty-something shop assistants. My first thought was: "Good for him coming in here alone! I imagine it isn't the most comfortable experience for a man." It was clear he felt out of place. His discomfort was obvious by the way he was shuffling around and avoiding eye contact with any women nearby.
This otherwise unremarkable experience sent a spark through my mind. This man was professional and smartly dressed; perhaps he could have worked for one of the many private equity, hedge fund or banking firms in the nearby area. I imagined that he was confident in his own world of work, but in this female haven he was not. He was the only man in the room, and it showed.
This world - that of Victoria's Secret - was not created to make someone like him feel comfortable. In this environment—a store catering to women, filled by women and selling feminine merchandise—the familiar patriarchal dynamics of the world had completely shifted.
This was a world that can transform an otherwise confident professional into an introverted, self-conscious and indecisive man who needed the help of a twenty-something female to make one simple purchase.
I have seen this story play out with the gender roles reversed many times throughout my career in the corporate world. Today, the culture of many companies are built and sustained by men, for men. Traditional male characteristics are still encouraged, rewarded and expected from female professionals, especially if they expect to reach the executive suite. Being the only woman in the room is still an everyday reality for so many women in business; most men do not understand how corrosive this situation can be to a person's confidence.
I have often heard men say that they believe gender inequality is not an issue in their firm. They hire women and now even have some women on their teams. Well, on those terms this man should not have experienced any issue either. There is no sign at the door of Victoria's Secret barring men from entry. Men are allowed to freely enter and buy whatever they choose. No woman in there would tell them to leave or suggest that to get to the front of the queue they must behave in a certain way. So, what was the problem? Why did this man appear so uncomfortable? Why did he suddenly lack the confidence he seemed to have in the outside world?
It's all in the numbers. If that store catered towards the needs of men, or if there were simply more men in the store (either equivalent to or greater than the number of women), then it is likely that man would have felt a greater sense of belonging.
Just because women are allowed into the workplace now, does not mean their experiences are equivalent to those of their male peers. Women, as the minority, simply do not have the same sense of freedom to be their true authentic selves in many corporate environments, even today.
Just like that Victoria's Secret shop assistant guiding the lone man through an ostensibly unwelcoming environment, so, too, do women benefit from the guidance of sponsors, helping them navigate the male dominated corporate world.
Before a man talks about gender parity, perhaps he first needs to take a trip to a lingerie store and experience what it is like to be the only one in the room. Maybe if more men had experiences like this, they may begin to understand what it is to feel so out of place. Maybe they would join us in creating greater gender equality in the workplace.