Ethics in Marketing: The Web of Lies

This has been an interesting past few weeks. Twice, I’ve seriously questioned the ethics of some companies who do quite a bit of advertising online. One was a big red flag, and the other was just a downright scam.

The Not-So-Neutral, Supposed-Third-Party Keyword URL

A few weeks ago, my neighborhood was hit with a rash of robberies. That prompted my search to have a security system installed. There are a bunch of companies online selling a variety of services, and they all aren’t apples-to-apples comparison.

In my search, I contacted the top 5 companies I had seen listed on numerous comparison review sites. Most of the companies have the same thing – a landing page with the call-to-action: complete the form and someone will call you. No problem – easy enough. I was actively looking, so I wanted to talk to people.

After I completed the online form for one of the “leading companies” (according to them), no sooner had I hit send than my phone was ringing. I hadn’t even had a chance to read the offer proposition to know what I would possibly be buying. And 10 minutes into the conversation with the sales guy, I STILL didn’t know. He was so busy with the script and sales pitch, that I had no idea what tangibles would be installed at my house. I told him I needed time to digest the information (at this point, I knew he had been trained to not let the customer off the phone), and he said, “Well, Margaret, I’m here to answer any questions you have.” I actually hadn’t had a chance to compile my question list to know what to ask, and when I told him, he got defensive and told me to check out the online review sites.

Ok… I did an organic search and found a bunch of “consumer review” sites and “comparison” sites. But I need a little time to read these reviews, right? He then told me, “Don’t focus on Yelp! and Google+ reviews, look at the review websites and you’ll see our company gets top ratings.” He was steering me to some of these organic results and “proving” to me through these reviews that everyone loves the company. The one particular review site sounded just like a sales pitch. And it was very similar to the sales pitch the guy was giving me. At this point, my marketing brain had strong suspicions that the company’s marketing team had created their own product sales page with their own reviews under the guise of this being a legitimate third party reviewer. Since anyone can buy just about any vanity URL, that’s quite a possibility. The sad thing is that these types of marketing people think they’re clever. And for the most part, lots of people will fall for that type of scam when keywords like “consumer review” are part of the URL.  We marketers know companies can clearly optimize for organic search, so just because there’s a review page, it doesn’t mean these are legit, right? What was the red flag? The language in the reviews on top of the direction away from more legitimate review sites (Yelp! and Google+). BTW, the Yelp! reviews were abysmal.

  • End result? I went with another company: Vivint. While the price was a bit higher than other companies, this company had the exact offering I needed.

Shopping Cart Stuffing

I was browsing my Facebook feed recently, and one of the pages I follow (supposedly All Natural Foods) had a sponsored story in my feed. I confess, I’m a huge K-drama fan, and when I saw the headline about one of my favorite Korean show couples, I clicked. I knew it was click-bait, but I wanted to get behind the headline: “[EXCLUSIVE] Staff Sees Song Couple Fighting In The Dressing Room!”

OK, now I know Song-Song (named so because they share the same surname) has better manners than this, but I figured it may be something silly or funny – not an actual scam. My red flag SHOULD have been the sponsoring page “All Natural Foods,” but I bit the hook. The faux story discussed how leading man Song Joong Ki outed his co-star Song Hye Kyo’s beauty secrets during an interview (and, yes, she’s stunning, so who wouldn’t want to grab her beauty secrets!). They claimed that Joong Ki supposedly said Hye Kyo used one particular product all the time on set, which supposedly upset her because she has a contract with another leading cosmetic company. On a side note, the scam company cleverly stated who that cosmetic company was so they could go head-to-head comparison against the big guns.

The article itself simply had a link embedded on the name of the product, and when you clicked on the link, you could get a trial offer for $2.95. No big deal. No Terms & Conditions, no commitment, nothing – just $2.95. Anyone can do that, right? I looked at this site up and down before signing up for my trial. When I got to the page before checkout, there was a “But wait!” image that said other people loved this product as well and it was only $4.95 trial. There was no radio button to click or unclick, and I proceeded ahead anyway without ordering this product. The checkout page said I was ordering $2.95, but I didn’t think to take a screenshot of that.

Then I thought to myself, let me do a google search (you would THINK that I would do this before ordering, right?). I pulled up several websites that say the trial automatically enrolls you in a program of $90/month… per product! There was no mention whatsoever of this supposed commitment. The scambuster site also said the company adds products to your cart without you knowing it. They also had some of the scammers customer service numbers, which went into oblivion – that endless loop of “we’ll be right with you”… not. To add insult to injury, they state the scam company will charge you a $9.95 restocking fee.  When I checked my credit card activity online, lo and behold – there were TWO charges from TWO different companies (sneaky little guys!).

  • End result? Thank goodness for Chase credit cards where they will happily issue you a new card number so the scammers can’t continue to charge. And they also make disputing a charge easy. Now if you click on the link to the article – it’s a 404 error code, and there is no sign of the trial offer website either.

A Rose by any other name

My plea to those of you in Digital Marketing – please keep your ethics close to your heart. Don’t get excited about pulling one over on consumers. Be responsible with our marketing. Marketing is about sharing your product’s or service’s key benefits to those who need them. If you know in your heart that you are “winning” or manipulating consumers, don’t call yourself a “marketer” – call yourself exactly what you are:  a scammer.


3 thoughts on “Ethics in Marketing: The Web of Lies

    1. margaretminuth

      It truly comes down to a skill and a science when these people are trained in manipulation to sell for their own benefit rather than the benefit of the consumer. Thank you for your comments.

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