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.


Comments

  1. says

    I’m almost in the same boat, and hate to see that ad. Once had an advertiser that wanted to buy an ad space just like that on LaptopMemo. A very angry “fffffffuuuuuuu” response in Gmail followed.

  2. says

    My favorite part of the disclaimer for those type of sites is “This website, and any page on the website, is based loosely off a true story, but has been modified in multiple ways including, but not limited to: the story, the photos, and the comments.”

    Oh, so I can trust the website except for the story, photos, and comments? In other words, the entire website?

    And if you read the disclaimer carefully, most of these sites promise a “free trial” with $1.95 in shipping, but actually set your card up with a recurring subscription. The “one weird old tip” ad that I clicked from the L.A. Times mentioned this in the fine print: “If you do not cancel within seven (7) days of the date that you enroll in the Program, we will charge the same card you provided at enrollment the non-refundable one-year membership fee of $149.95″. Then they also start charging you $12.95 a month. Grr.

  3. says

    “This website, and any page on the website, is based loosely off a true story, but has been modified in multiple ways including, but not limited to: the story, the photos, and the comments.”

    Haha epic!

  4. says

    Finally someone telling the truth and showing that kind of sites should be…were better not say it. I hope I could detect those before my impulsive left click curiosity falls again.

    Thank you Dany for the article and Matt for the tweet that brought me here.

  5. says

    I have seen a few of these and, as a marketer, am oddly in awe as they must work wonders for the bank balance.

    Then at the same time, I feel sorry for the saps that are not as savvy as us and think these things are going to help them.

    When I keep reading about tightened regulations against ‘meds’ site claims and forced continuity, how do these sites and the advertisers manage to stay away from sanctions?

  6. says

    What I’d like to see are statistics and the split-test results for the ad itself. “1 weird old tip” must kick some serious butt as copy because it has been all over the sidebars of blogs and on Facebook for months. I keep thinking it will fade, or they will change creatives, but there it is, day after day. Anyone know what the product really is? Is it a bunch of independent affiliates drop shipping for one warehouse in Texas? Or is it all one operation? I’d love it if it were all one operation – I like big villains in my stories.

  7. says

    I also love this disclaimer on a lot of those sites: “All celebrity images were found on and obtained from public websites and are believed to be in public domain” and how they spell out the charges instead of using numerals so people won’t see the charges as easily.

  8. says

    I followed the “Zedo opt out” link in the article, the site says that while you can opt out of the “Zedo cookie”, it doesn’t mean you opt out from Zedo adds in general. So the text in the article is a bit misleading in that regard.

  9. Steve Huggins says

    The funniest thing about reading this post – while reading it, I noticed some ads on the right of the page, that link through to fake news pages. It’s a plague! :)

  10. Cynthia Reed says

    Imagine my surprise to learn that I even HAD an “active Zedo cookie”. I wonder who baked that one for me!? Well, I opted out, thank you. I despise those ads and was happy to learn they weren’t even Google (whom I blame for most things, come to think of it, without even knowing). Of course, once I opted out, I got this: “Opting out of the ZEDO Cookie means that you will no longer see ads that are selected for you, based on your browsing behavior, geography location, or other ads you have seen. Opting out of the ZEDO cookie means that you may see ads multiple times, and that are targeted to users located anywhere in the world.” Guess I’ll still see them but I can take comfort in that they weren’t really aimed at me. Good post, thanks! :-)

  11. says

    I use the AdBlock Plus extension on Firefox and miss most of the ads that way, thankfully. If I ever purposely want to look at something like this that I know will leave a ton of cookies, I go into Safari to view. At the end, I just go to Edit -> Reset Safari and it gets me back to a clean install.

  12. Jon says

    Surprised to see Matt tweet this (and you write about it) given that rebills have been around for quite a while and this specific copy has been around just as long. If this is news to people like Matt, it’s no wonder Google is always on the back foot.

  13. Chris G says

    Sadly, opting out of the Zedo cookie can actually result in you seeing that ad more often, not less … if it turns out that the Weird Old Tip people are setting per-person exposure caps in their media buy.

    Here’s a place where you can opt out of the personalization cookie for quite a few advertisers all at once. http://www.networkadvertising.org/managing/opt_out.asp

  14. Scot says

    Hi Danny,

    Like Steve, I also noticed the skyscraper for a “flatter stomach”/dodgy news site (and I am in the UK, so they sent me to a Brit-version of the fake news site: ugh!) running on your blog.

    Seriously, they have to be stopped.

    Thanks for the great post!

    -Scot

  15. says

    I know I got cut and don’t even know how to unsubscribe from it. Never heard of them after.
    It was my first experience as a marketing agent
    Next one Elite weight loss web site paid never got commission lost

  16. says

    Danny, as you know, I’ve been writing about this for years. These type of ads are the mainstay of many of the PPC programs out there, including what is running on MSNBC and FOX. I’ve written and spoken to both those sites, and the Pulse360 ads that push these flogs and they refuse to take them down. MSNBC last year to take these down when their own reporter noted them.. they haven’t.

    Pace

  17. mischa says

    I saw that Acai ‘article’ a while back. The ad I had clicked on talked about ‘exposing the truth about Acai’. I tried to leave a comment but was told that comments were closed for the article. Imagine my surprise (sarcasam) when I accidentally went back to the site a couple weeks later and even though comments were still closed, there were 4 more comments talking about how wonderful Acai berries were.

  18. Ingrid says

    The other scam is about tooth whitening this is the same company I was charged within a month about $ 500.00 onmy credit card and never received anything same thing just a trial for postage and you are done for. Interesting tha when I complained to my bank they told me to cancel but I had no idea who to contact. Interesting the bank gave me the phone number to cancel so if the bank knows it is a scam why are they allowing it to happend. Because the bank becomes the fasilitaiter and it just as guilty as the scamer iI got my money back the problem it the creditcard compamy

  19. Mary says

    I was scammed too. Just out of curiosity, I clicked on the link. I figured I wouldn’t have anything to lose. So, I put in my credit card information. The next morning I went to the store to buy groceries and my credit card was denied. Since, I had just gotten paid, I knew something else was wrong. My Credit Union was just down the street so I stopped and went in to talk with an agent. Well, to my surprise, they had cancelled my credit card because they told me that the company that I had given my credit card information to was disreputable and dishonest and a high risk for scamming and were on fraud alert. I went in angry and came out very relieved that my Credit Union had looked out for me and had saved me hundreds of dollars. By the way. I did get my Free sample of Acai berries, without paying a dime.

  20. anon says

    One of the main reasons you see this ad so often is that it gets a massive CTR! I actually testing it for a week for a previous employer when we wanted to push people to a weight loss site (but we did give them a free download which actually explained what the wierd old tip is, and there was no free acai offer or dodgy continuity program, etc). For a display banner ad, it got MONSTER CTR – nearly 10%, which blew me away.

    That’s why these scumbags use it.

    As for the dodgy fake news sites, it seems to me that the FTC should probably be investigating this in some way – they made such a big fuss about “fake” sites for affiliate marketers a few years ago – this one seems to fit that category as well.

    Lastly, the best revenge against these guys is to click on their ads and not buy – cost them money but for no return. If their clicks go up significantly but they get no additional sales, they will eventually have to pull the pin due to poor profits.

    Of course, if they’re running low rate CPM ads and limit the ad exposure per person per day, then this might not work…

    The best option overall is massive negative publicity – get all the major news & current affairs programs to start telling people about these sorts of sites & deals and you just might make it too ineffective for these scumbags to advertise in this fashion.

    Lastly, shame on the ad networks for allowing these kinds of advertisers on their sites. They’re happy to take the money from this lot of scumbags but kill off legitimate advertisers of other products/services.

  21. Andy Fletcher says

    Danny, I’m surprised you imply you clicked the AD with JS on. The ADBlock tip above is good, but JS off by default is really the only way to go when visiting anything you don’t know for me.

    @Mary:

    “I figured I wouldn’t have anything to lose. So, I put in my credit card information.”

    Please tell me you’re joking!

  22. says

    Danny, I still See Acai Berry Ads on your site.. Unfortunately, blocking the health category didn’t stop it.. :(

  23. Laura Smith says

    Thanks for this article! I’ve seen those adds so often that my curiosity was eventually going to get the better of me. Thanks for saving me the bother :)