Class action alleges company drove foot traffic with trick coupon 

Frozen Freebie

Oregon resident Mariel Spencer claims to have downloaded International Dairy Queen’s official smartphone app, which offered her a pleasant surprise – a digital coupon, redeemable at her local DQ, for a free Blizzard shake.

If you don’t know what a Blizzard is, you’re missing out. The signature shake is essentially soft-serve ice cream blended with any number of ingredients, from typical sundae toppings to cookies or candy. Often these flavors are built on established brands; the Oreo and Butterfinger Blizzards are popular standards. (If you’re torn, the Butterfinger Blizzard is delicious.)

But Spencer claims she was left with a bad taste in her mouth when her local DQ in Banks, Oregon, refused to honor the offer.

The Takeaway

Spencer filed a class action complaint in the District Court of Oregon, Portland Division, in July 2018. At the center of the complaint is a list of angry app reviews left by frustrated DQ patrons who had their coupon rejected; as in many comments sections, the invective at times becomes quite heated.

The allegations are fairly consistent, but if they’re true, it remains unclear what prompted the refusal by the local franchisers; did the parent company create the faulty coupon purposefully in order to drive up traffic, as Spencer alleges? Or was it simply an epic corporate communications misfire between the head office and the franchises?

Spencer is charging International Dairy Queen with violations of the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act – specifically for creating confusion about the actual offer as well as the relationship between the parent company and its local stores. She also alleges intentional misrepresentations and false and misleading advertisements. The last ingredient? Willful and reckless behavior; Spencer alleges that DQ refused to fix the problem or rescind the offer even though hundreds of victims fell prey to the coupon and complained about it.

Spencer is suing for each misled consumer to receive “the monetary value of at least five Blizzards per class member.” Best prayer for relief ever.

Companies can learn from this frozen debacle on how best to avoid these lawsuits. The first lesson: Read your reviews. Customer reviews may be a great place to start and may head off many issues before they get out of hand. If problems are addressed early, companies can fix the promotion or advertising so as to not mislead customers. Early intervention could mitigate damages and greatly reduce the number of customers negatively affected by the mistake. The second lesson: Know the promotion. Companies should know how the promotion would actually work in real life. While this example may stem from a miscommunication between the parent company and the franchises, these miscommunications may occur in any business. Companies should confirm beforehand that franchises would either honor a proposed deal or clearly communicate to customers what locations would honor the deal.