Of Misleading Acai Berry Ads & Fake Editorial Sites

So I’m cruising along at the LA Times today, and I get another one of those weight loss ads that you might have seen:

Let’s take a closer look at that ad:

Hmm. Lose weight by using this “1 weird old tip.”

I confess. When I first saw this type of ad last week, I clicked. I was curious just what that old tip was. Here’s the type of site I ended up on:

Welcome to “Channel 7 Heath Beat,” where you can hear the click of teletypes in the background, and Will Ferrell is due out to reprise is Anchorman role at any moment. Or he should, because this ain’t a news site. It’s just designed to look like one. And that weird old tip?

Yeah, there is no weird old tip. The words “weird” and “old,” as it turns out, never appear on the page. In fact, the opposite happens. You’re told how acai berries are the latest fad.

Now if you scroll down past all the comments (which are probably like this “news” site and not real), you get a ton of disclaimers about those logos used and this, perhaps the best part:

You get that? Don’t take the stories or comments on this page literally. Heh.

All done? Well, when you try to leave, you get a “wait, don’t go” interruption:

The good news is that neither “choice” will cause you to be trapped in an endless loop of messages preventing you from going. But you will get another page loaded (and presumably, someone’s making more money for showing it to you).

There are a string of these fake news sites out there. I suppose they work, but I find them kind of sucky.

Don’t want to see these ads any more? The ad, unlike Google’s ads, doesn’t report what ad network is delivering them. But looking at the URL, it turns out to be Zedo. You can opt out from Zedo ads here.

Personally, I’d like to see Zedo up its standards for the type of ads it will accept. This type of junk shouldn’t be allowed. Here’s hoping that one of their advisers, Esther Dyson, might push for that.

Postscript: Michael VanDeMar did some more digging into the ad and discovered that ultimately, it IS being served up via Google, apparently through its DoubleClick ad network.

The ad space on the page itself is using DoubleClick code to pull in ads. In turn, Zedo is serving into that space. In turn, this ad from the Zedo network appears, with Google’s help.

This changes nothing from my perspective. I think Google should raise its standards as much as I think Zedo should.

Ironically, I’d assumed initially that this was a Google ad, because most of the ads I tend to run into are served by Google’s AdSense system. But those are all identified with an “Ads by Google” disclosure next to them. When I didn’t see that, I figured Google wasn’t playing a role here.

Suffice to say, I think DoubleClick units should carry a similar “Ads by Google” type of message. Or more to the point, if there are bad ads that I run into, I like the ability to easily find the network and report them.

Meanwhile, since I have AdSense here in places on the site — and this is about acai berries tangentially — apparently AdSense is now delivering up ads that appear to link back to the same company that was running through DoubleClick/Zedo. Talk about irony.

I’ll dig into my settings with AdSense to see if I can just block ads from “acai berry” vendors in general. Meanwhile, the fact that AdSense itself may be sending people to these “news” sites might put more pressure on Google to remove them.

Also, further in the comments, Jon notes that these type of ads have been around, things that get you into recurring payment and so on. I know. That wasn’t the main point of my article. What’s annoyed me most is that the ad is so clearly different from what the landing page delivers. You’re promised a “weird old tip,” but nothing like that at all is delivered. That seems misleading right from the start. It, of course, goes downhill from there.

And sadly, as also some have said in the comments, opting out of the cookie doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t see these ads any longer.

Postscript 2: Dug into AdSense, there’s a category filter option you can use. Weight Loss is now blocked, which I hope gets rid of those ads. Interestingly, “Get Rich Quick” is a category that’s also listed — and which apparently was generating 3% of my AdSense income. Killed that category, as well. Guess I’ll get rich less quick without get rich quick ads.

Postscript 3: Going back to Mike’s post, I noticed Aaron Wall had a comment highlighting this whole category filter that AdSense has, saying how this shows ultimately that Google is OK running these ads, even though it knows that some publishers might want to opt-out. Indeed, that was my same reaction when I saw this feature. “Um, you have a group of ads called ‘Get Rich Quick’ but rather than block them, you leave it to the publisher?” I suppose some publishers might want to run such ads — and I’m glad that I have the option to turn them off. But I think it might be better if Google just said no to some of these types of ads.