BBB National Programs Archive

NAD Recommends Sonic Better Disclose Limitations on Promotions

Notes Appreciation for Chain’s Response to Consumer

New York, NY – June 13,  2012 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that Sonic Corp & Subsidiaries better disclose the limits of any promotional offer, following a consumer challenge to the chain’s  “FREE COFFEE WITH ANY BREAKFAST BURRITO” claim.

NAD is an investigative arm of the advertising industry’s self-regulatory system and is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The consumer asserted that he saw, while visiting a Sonic drive-in restaurant in March 2012, a large sign that stated:  “Wake up! FREE COFFEE WITH ANY BREAKFAST BURRITO.”

According to the consumer, upon ordering a Junior Breakfast Burrito, he requested his free coffee.  The manager informed the consumer that in order to qualify for the free coffee, he would have to purchase a Steak Burrito or other Premium Burrito; the Junior Burrito did not qualify for the promotional offer.  The consumer ultimately went to another restaurant and forwarded his complaint to NAD.

In response to NAD’s inquiry, the advertiser said that it had developed the “free coffee” promotion for January 2012 to encourage the sale of its breakfast burritos. At the end of the promotional period, the advertiser said, promotional materials were to have been discarded.

The advertiser was unsure as to whether or not this specific March 2012 promotional signage was a local promotion. However, given the ambiguity of the language “FREE COFFEE WITH ANY BURRITO”, the advertiser stated that the customer’s request for the free coffee with his Junior Burrito should have been honored.

Upon receipt of NAD’s inquiry, the advertiser immediately directed the drive-in to discard the sign for the now-ended promotion unless it intended to provide free coffee with any breakfast burrito.

The advertiser apologized for the consumer’s unfortunate dining experience and thanked him for bringing this matter to Sonic’s attention.  Further, in an effort to remedy this situation and regain the customer’s goodwill, the advertiser offered to provide the consumer with a $50.00 gift card for future food and drink purchases at any Sonic drive-in.

NAD noted in its decision that advertisers are responsible for all reasonable interpretations of their claims, not just the messages they intend to convey. In this case, NAD determined that a consumer could interpret the claim “FREE COFFEE WITH ANY BREAKFAST BURRITO” to include Sonic’s Junior Burrito.  NAD recommended that, in future advertisements offering “free coffee,” the advertiser clearly and conspicuously disclose any material limitations on the offer in close proximity to the claim. NAD further noted its appreciation for the advertiser’s prompt response and its offer to remedy the situation and regain the customer’s goodwill.

Sonic Corp. & Subsidies, in its advertiser’s statement, said it appreciated “NAD’s bringing this matter to its attention and for its review of Sonic’s ‘FREE COFFEE WITH ANY BREAKFAST BURRITO’ promotion and advertising materials.  Sonic will take NAD’s recommendations into consideration in in future advertising promotions.