What's Wrong With Putting A Fake Ad In A Newspaper?

from the people-are-too-sensitive dept

Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News (both owned by the same media company) ran full page ads for a “new” airline called Derrie-Air that had a unique selling point: pay what you weigh. Different routes had different prices that were all per pound. The idea was that the lighter you (and your luggage) were, the less you would have to pay. The only thing is that the airline doesn’t actually exist (which I assume anyone with a very slight knowledge of the French language could probably figure out from the name of the airline).

So why did the newspapers do this? It was actually as a test, to see how well advertisements in the paper could drive people to a website. The whole thing sounds like a good (and funny) way to test that out. But, of course, any time you trick some people, someone’s going to get upset — and that’s exactly what’s happening. Suddenly people are charging the company with some sort of ethical lapse for not making it clear the ad was fake. Of course, if they did that, the whole purpose of the ad would have been lost.

Plus, it’s difficult to see what the “harm” is. If a few people thought it was real, they would quickly be disabused of that notion, with no harm done. The people complaining that this would somehow make people trust the news in the paper less apparently haven’t been paying attention to the various reporting scandals over the past few years. People have plenty of reasons not to trust the news that they read. Seeing a fake (and mildly amusing) ad in a paper isn’t going to make them trust the newspapers any less.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: philadelphia daily news, philadelphia inquirer

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “What's Wrong With Putting A Fake Ad In A Newspaper?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Brandon says:

How's it different from TV?

I don’t see how this is different from ABC’s Lost “commercials” about the different organizations (Oceanic Air, the Dharma guy that always appears on the films, etc) pertaining to the show.

If the website tried to sell them something, collect information or collect money, then I’d have issue with it… otherwise, it’s just impression-gathering.

Kurien says:

Crux of the matter ...

Nothing wrong with the ad. If the test was how an ad drives hits to the home page, the disclaimer on that derrie air ad was just an experiment should have been the first line on the web page … rather than the last one. In this case, the newspaper has to be held responsible for their action as this is tending more towards a trick than an experiment … because the experiment ends as soon as I visit the page.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Crux of the matter ...

enough is enough guys, come on.

gow up ya friggin babies, its a joke, it wasn’t a reporter, it wasnt a story, it was a paid for advert, show shut the %$*^ up.

country’s full of whiners no wonder we have jackasses in office, no one has the balls or intelligence to say enough is enough.

Homer J says:

I can trust adverts new?

Hey they’re right. Now I can’t trust adverts to be truthful and honest and only sell me things I need. Damn you Philadelphia Daily News – you’ve underminded the integrity of an honorable institution.

At least I can still trust e-mail.

(Gotta go, I need to write to a Nigerian friend who can make me rich, rich, rich…!)

Nigerian Friend, formerly Anonymous Coward says:

I see no reason for people becoming angry because of that ad. Some many times, “real” companies advertise products and services that they do not have. How many times have we had to buy products and read after opening (despite the warning: opening means you cant return) to find the initial warning we should have seen. 🙁

Brian says:

Why in the world would anyone who actually fell for this let everyone else know what an idiot they are by complaining about it? Seriously. I chuckled at it the instant I read the name of the airline.

Anyway, to be on the constructive side of things, it seems like a poor ad to place if you wanted to test the productivity of an ad. Were this actually real, it would generate more interest due to controversial factors than it would if it were more like your standard advertisement. (Unless that’s what they were going for, I guess.)

Who knows.

Tamara Denshire says:

There was a similar incident in Australia, however the fake ad was placed on April Fools Day and it was for a real company(and placed by the company). It was an airline company introducing “Standing Room Only” tickets that were half price and also selling tickets for people to sit on the wing for a greatly discounted rate. Of course there were a few idiots who thought that was real and had a big cry about false advertising.

The Seat of Your Pants says:


This really didn’t prove anything about using print ads to drive traffic on web pages. I need to give a thumb up to Brian’s remark, “Why in the world would anyone who actually fell for this let everyone else know what an idiot they are by complaining about it?”
It is a humorous introduction to a timely topic. The controversy should not be “Newspapers shouldn’t be fooling me.” The discussion should be “I’m not paying for the extra fuel airlines use to fly my fat ass around the world.”

dorpass says:

Re: Fraud?

Arn’t there various trade laws against fradulent advertising?

I’m sure there are relevent rules for the manner in which you conduct public surveys too.

Yes, SteveD, there are rules for everything. There are even rules for how you should sit on a toilet and you probably have been breaking them forever. There might be a warrant in your name for that offense.

Crispin says:

Plummet Mall

This reminds me of the 1985 Plummet Mall radio ads in Cincinnati. A station ran ads for most of the summer for the world’s first underground mall. They abruptly stopped when “seismological activity” shifted the construction and the mall was “lost.” The ads were strange in the first place but the explanation for stoppage was even weirder. A lot of people assumed it was some social experiment in radio ads.

John Duncan Yoyo (profile) says:

The Inky has always had a peculiar sense of humor with reguards to advertising it’s advertising department.

I remember a full page ad which wanted to know where 14th street had disappeared to. If you don’t know Philadelphia the number streets run from east to west with one major exception the 14th street is called Broad Street.

Anyone thin skinned enough to sue over being fooled is a fool to remember. It probably helps to have this class of people self-identify themselves so they can be watched and kept from hurting themselves and others.

Overcast says:

People are such babies anymore, waaaaa… cry me a river.

It did seem like an innovate and original test that could give just the results they are looking for.

“It is clearly deception,” said Bob Steele, the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at The Poynter Institute. “Newspapers should not be in the business of deception. I can’t imagine the Inquirer and Daily News would run fake ads from other companies.”

It wasn’t deception you freakin’ idiot – it was creative advertising with a twist of satire. Deception would run the full route, perhaps even trying to defraud someone.

So I went to the web page of his organization.


On there – there is a picture of a Pyramid and the Sphinx upside down – I’m suing!!!! I was deceived into thinking they really are upside down!!!!!! That’s OUTRIGHT deception!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

dude, if youre foolish enough to blindly sign in or click on a page that you didnt instigate, you frigging deserve to have your computer melted and sold as scrap.

stop crying about people tricking you into doing something and express the 10 seconds of thought it would take to STOP doing stupid assenine things, then crying to a psudo mommy about it.

GROW THE HELL UP AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS YOU DOLT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Always Broke says:

False Advertising is, well..... FALSE

I went looking for ways to make money from home, and found a website that says it will pay you money for your soul! After chuckling, I proceeded to see just how far this website would take me. It ends with a comment to the effect of “Did you really think we were going to pay you?” http://www.wewantyoursoul.com/
Just goes to show you that you cant believe everything you hear or see.

Anonymous Coward says:

We’ve grown into a nation of pansies.

NO one thinks of what they are doing anymore
NO one takes responsibilities for those thoughtless actions
NO one wants to make things right…

NO wonder we’re the laughing stock of the world. We have so much going for us, but we keep shooting ourselves in the foot.

tired of it, lets take our country back, write in “None of the Above” on the next ballot.


David says:

stupid people

One thing I have learned after working in the theme park industry is that people are stupid. I used to work at the Jurassic Park Ride at Universal and we actually had a guest, a woman in her 40’s, believe the dinosaurs were real. She took pictures of it and showed her friends and after they called her an idiot for believing they were real she complained to Universal. We actually got a verbal warning for convincing her they were real. Even though part of our jobs was to pretend the dinosaurs were real, we apparently did it too well. People will believe everything, and you will always have someone dumb enough to believe it and then complain that they fell for it.

Brian says:

Re: stupid people

“One thing I have learned after working in the theme park industry is that people are stupid. I used to work at the Jurassic Park Ride at Universal and we actually had a guest, a woman in her 40’s, believe the dinosaurs were real. She took pictures of it and showed her friends and after they called her an idiot for believing they were real she complained to Universal.” -David

Wait, wait, wait. She thought the dinosaurs were real and still stopped to take pictures when there is little to block (certainly not enough to stop a real dinosaur) the animals from reaching her?

Someone go tell her that buses are imaginary and that they will pass right through her if she just ignores them.

“Hee. Look at the giant T-Rex with the giant carnivorous teeth less than 10 ft. away from me. Isn’t he just the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen?”

Even if your story is made-up, I wouldn’t put it past a few people I’ve met in my lifetime. It’s seriously not that hard to imagine as I sit here at my local Starbucks watching nearly every person pull on the door that says “Push” in huge friggin letters. Some of them try two or three times before pushing, too. It’s frustrating, yet amusing at the same time to watch.

Bryan Campbell says:

What about Dunder Mifflin

If Derrie-Air caused this kind of furor then what about the http://www.dundermifflininfinity.com/ site. This popped up in a Google ad on my gmail account and it sounded so strange that I clicked on the link, it took me about 20 minutes of searching to discover this was put together by NBC for its series the Office (I guess I didn’t pay enough attention to the fact that Michael works for Dunder Mifflin). Apparently, Dunder Mifflin is an official member of the Scranton Chamber of Commerce (http://www.officetally.com/dunder-mifflin-banner-scranton). Note there are no ‘notices’ or ‘warnings’ that this is a fictional company.

Another interesting dimension of this is that the media itself believed it. I saw a number of media channels carrying this story yesterday. So much for the thorough investigative reporting of our favorite news providers!

David says:

Not sure if their numbers are accurate

The thing is, they created a pretty spiffy tongue-in-cheek site that was passed around widely on the Internet. I know I personally saw it, and was responsible for sending it to 4 or 5 of my friends. None of whom live in Philly or even anywhere near it. I didn’t even know that an ad for the site ran in the paper.

I just hope they take their own numbers with a grain of salt.

Anonymous Coward says:

While I question the wisdom of publishing such a fake advertisement, I would have to say that as long as there is no scamming or phishing or any such illegal or questionable activity taking place, then there’s no harm done, and people need to stop being so touchy about these things. For cryin’ out loud, it’s as if there’s no greater crime on earth than having your feelings get hurt. Believe me, there are plenty of things in this world that “offend” me, but as long as they aren’t actually harming me in any way, I usually try to leave well enough alone. I see this site as nothing more than a practical joke, or perhaps even a research project of some sort (or both). Again, as long as no scamming is taking place, there’s nothing illegal here, so get over it.

Hulser says:

Wrong vs. good business practice

While it may not be morally wrong for a newspaper to host a fake ad, what about the impact on its own business? Specifically, if you are a company looking to advertise, would you want to pay for a spot in a newspaper that is known for “faking out” its readers? If I was running an ad compaign that was a little off-the-wall (but still real), I don’t think I’d want to risk there being any confusion in the readers’ minds as to whether or not my ad was some kind of prank or research item.

It’s a bit like crying wolf. A newspaper hosts fake ads to the point where someone buys a real ad and the reaction from the readers is “Oh, that must be fake. I’m not even going to bother visiting that web site.” Remember, “Today’s satire is tomorrow’s normal.” Just wait until gas prices are even more insane and some airline actually does start charging by the pound. Then ads like this won’t seem so silly.

Joe Mullin (profile) says:

Bad idea

I agree with Hulser that the issue isn’t so much ethics as just a foolish idea from a business perspective.

If I were a reporter at the paper behind this stunt I would be upset! I’d feel like I’m being undermined by my own boss. The potential damage is to the newspaper’s reputation and the trust of readers. If a newspaper is willing to create a fake ad and say “just kidding!” in fine print, you have to wonder if the next “experiment” will be: “What happens when we write a fake story?”

The problem isn’t harm to consumers; the problem is the newspaper harming itself. Newspapers are in the fact-verification business; their marketing departments need to be cognizant of that.

r. decline (profile) says:

This was not funny or cute!

I seriously needed to fly to LA to visit a sick relative but my funds are very limited. When I saw this ad I realized that by simply shedding a few pounds I could afford it so I called my relatives and told them I would be on my way soon. Imagine the horror and pain I felt when I realized this company was fake! And now my relative has passed away and I was unable to be there to say goodbye and all because of this “funny” ad. If it had not been for that ad I would have borrowed the money from somewhere, maybe from my dealer he is ok with loaning me a few dollars every now and then. This was just wrong and I hope they suffer in under the full weight of our legal system!

another mike says:


You’re whining because you got caught up in a great prank?! You must be a real hoot around April 1st.
But it’s also a great idea for a new airline. Maybe they can also charge by the cubic inch for overhead bin space. That’ll keep those idiots from cramming their oversized rolling luggage into the overhead bin space.

David says:

So this forum is basically dead but yeah that story I told about Jurassic Park was real. We were shocked, to say the least, that someone could be that stupid. She was apparently on the ride when she took the pictures. I can only imagine, if I believed the ride was real, how scared I would be of raptors jumping out at me near the end, never mind a 30 foot tall t-rex…

Happy Hug Day Images And Quotes 2019 (user link) says:

Whats up very cool site!! Guy .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your site and take the feeds additionally? I’m happy to seek out numerous useful info here within the submit, we’d like work out extra strategies on this regard, thank you for sharing. . . . . .


Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...