The True Story of a Bogus Blog

Writing for AdWeek, Andrew Adam Newman reports that a deceptive PR campaign on behalf of the Coach bag company has become "the latest illustration of how a buzz-seeking stunt may backfire." Led by Paul Werth Associates, an Ohio PR firm, the "International AntiCounterfeiting Campaign" (IACC) sought to discourage people from buying knockoff handbags. As part of the campaign, Coach persuaded Hunter College in New York to offer a public relations class which invented a fictional student named "Heidi Cee." They created blog postings, a YouTube video and MySpace pages in which Heidi Cee complained that she had been ripped off when she bought a fake Coach handbag. The campaign also claimed that counterfeit products are linked to criminal activity, child labor and terrorism. The revelation that Heidi Cee was a counterfeit herself has drawn criticism, and college officials and Coach are now trying to distance themselves from the fakery. These denials drew scoffs from Sarah El-Edlibi, one of the students who participated in the class. According to El-Edlibi, "the entire PR team from Coach was in the class" egging the students on. "We were supposed to be working for Coach, who was the client, and they really liked the idea of making someone fake. If they had some ethical issues with it, they should have said so. If there was anybody who could have stopped it, it would have been Coach."