Is CiCi's 'Penny Picker Upper' Campaign Insulting? Or Just Stupid?

Dig Around in the Dirt for Your Coupon, Peons!

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While a number of recession-type specials have likened themselves to the federal stimulus package, only a few lower themselves to the level of being downright insulting. But CiCi's Pizza is pushing the envelope. The chain's agency, Deutsch, Los Angeles, sent me a bag of pennies today. It's part of a promotion in which CiCi's is dropping 1 million pennies on the ground near each of its 650 U.S. restaurants. Not sure if I need to subtract 30 pennies for the number now littering my desk.

In the "Penny Picker Upper" campaign, each "winning penny" has a tail-side coupon for a free kid's drink, kid's meal or all-you-can-eat buffet, which usually sets one back $5. All you have to do is get a little road dirt, mud and fast-food bacteria on your hands. Just don't forget to wash up before eating.

"In tough times, every penny really does count," CiCi's President Craig Moore said in a statement. "This campaign celebrates America's penny picker uppers and our hope is that, after this program, no one will ever look at a penny the same way again."

Related TV spots began airing yesterday. Consumers can create bobblehead "trophies" of themselves on penny pedestals at beapennypickerupper.com. The chain will also keep track of pennies redeemed on Facebook.

"Today, cheap is the new smart," Eric Hirshberg, president and chief creative of Deutsch L.A., said in his agency's press release. "The 'Penny Picker Upper' campaign literally puts frugality up on a pedestal and celebrates it."

Any "specially-marked" penny returned to the restaurant will be donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Any pennies not returned will represent money the company has simply thrown away.

A number of food companies have attributed free or discounted meals to federal emergency relief being doled out to ailing institutions, including Domino's Pizza and Jamba Juice.