The FTC Rallies Against Fake News Ads
If you spend anytime following the news on the web you’ve seen the ads. They look like newspaper articles and many even feature the logos of CNN, USAToday and. . . oh, look. . there’s one right there!
Even though they do say “advertorial” on them and they are found in sidebars where banner ads usually hang out, people still think they’re legitimate news sources, so they click and they buy the diet product that is hawked at the end of it all. The FTC says no more. They’ve gone to court to stop ten companies who produce these phony ads and they want to force them refund the money to consumers who fell for the claims.
The FTC charges that the defendants:
- make false and unsupported claims that acai berry supplements will cause rapid and substantial weight loss;
- deceptively represent that:
- their websites are objective news reports;
- independent tests demonstrate the effectiveness of the product, and
- comments following the “articles” on their websites reflect the views of independent consumers; and
- fail to disclose their financial relationships to the merchants selling the products.
The combination is pretty damning, but what if you separated these claims? Would it be alright to create a phony news site complete with fake comments if the facts were true? Couldn’t that just be seen as creative license?
The FTC is also going after them for not disclosing the fact that it’s an affiliate deal.
“The defendants receive commissions when consumers buy the products or sign up for “free trials” on the product-selling sites – but they fail to adequately disclose their lack of objectivity and their financial incentive to get consumers to buy the products.
In total, it all falls under the heading of deceptive advertising and I get that. But you do have to wonder how so many people can be taken in by what is so blatantly an advertisement. According to the FTC, the companies involved have paid out more than $10 million to run these ads, so it’s likely that they’re pocketing a lot more.
Apparently, many people do believe everything they read on the internet.