In the digital landscape, advertisers continually push the boundaries to grab our attention. A prime method for this? The promise of unbeatable discounts. However, this tactic often walks a thin line between genuine offers and misleading promotions. A recent promotional email from Lyft perfectly demonstrate this controversial strategy.

Email with dark patterns from Lyft

The Big, Bold Promise

At first glance, the email is enticing: "Save 60% on your next ride." Accompanied by a vivid image of a walking passenger, the offer is strategically placed in title, capturing the reader's attention immediately. For many, a 60% discount sounds like a fantastic deal, almost too good to pass up.

However, as with many promotions that seem too good to be true, there's a catch hidden in the small print. The asterisked disclaimer below reveals that this substantial 60% discount has a cap—a mere $10 off per ride. This limit severely dampens the promotional value. For rides that cost more than $16.67, the discount becomes progressively less than the promised 60%.

The Dark Pattern at Play

This advertising approach is a classic example of a Bait and Switch dark pattern. The primary intention is to lure users with an attractive proposition and then present them with terms that are less favorable than initially implied. The difference between the headline's promise and the actual offer, hidden in tiny text, is designed to bank on users not reading the terms carefully.

While such tactics might initially boost engagement or sales, they can erode trust in the long run. Users who feel misled are less likely to engage with future promotions, even genuine ones. This jeopardizes brand credibility and can deter potential customers.