Hunter College offers 'Deceitfulness 101'

This is so wrong on so many different levels that it's difficult to keep count, although AdWeek gives it a shot in this report headlined "The True Story of a Bogus Blog."

It seems that Hunter College students were duped into believing that one of their own, a Heidi Cee, had been fleeced for $500 in reward money she posted by someone who pawned off a fake Coach handbag as the one holding great sentimental value that she had lost.

There is no Heidi Cee, no lost Coach bag, no sob story, no reward, no counterfeit. It was all an elaborate ruse that included phony MySpace and Facebook profiles, as well as a YouTube video.

Had this been merely the work of a rogue student at the New York City school it would have been noteworthy if not entirely unexpected these days. There's a scammer or schemer around every corner; browser beware. But such was not the case. From the story:

A public relations class at Hunter invented (Cee) last spring. The course was funded by a $10,000 grant from Coach and was part of a college outreach campaign by the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC), a trade group that includes Coach and other brands like Apple, Levi Strauss & Co., Louis Vuitton and Rolex.

The anticounterfeiting program had been conducted at other universities, too -- including in at least one instance sponsored by Cisco -- although in those cases everything was apparently done above board and without controversy. Hunter's chosen path produced an entirely different result.

Now red flags are flying. Some of the most pointed criticism has come from PR professionals, who say the Hunter campaign runs afoul of basic PR tenets such as truthfulness and transparency. And as advertisers clamor for viral marketing approaches, the Hunter fracas serves as the latest illustration of how a buzz-seeking stunt may backfire.

Not to mention the fact that some might wonder if this is what a college education -- even in public relations -- really ought to be about.

You're thinking it can't get any worse? It gets worse:

More specifically, some faculty at Hunter, part of the City University of New York system, see the class as an example of corporate encroachment on campus and criticize the school's administration, which allegedly demanded that the Coach-sponsored program be offered as a class. Critics claim the motive was to butter up Coach's CEO, Lew Frankfort, a Hunter alumnus, who several months later donated $1 million to the school.

Maybe Frankfort will ask that Hunter counter such suspicions with a course entitled "Coincidences 101."

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