Advertising rates have fallen in all media. This has helped along the implosion of the print media, led to near-saturation of infomercials on TV, and produced the ads for flatter stomachs, whiter teeth, and vanishing stretch marks nearly everywhere you click on the Internet. We know where infomercials come from, but who’s behind these banner ads? Who had the brilliant idea, in a recession, to promise ugly duckling-like transformations at the end of a free trial? Slate’s The Big Money decided to find out.
Reporter Chadwick Matlin is refreshingly upfront about how these ads have ended up on perfectly respectable web sites such as, well, Slate. He traces the chain of responsibility from the publishers to the ad networks. While someone probably should be responsible for stopping these ads, he finds that no one actually is.
But when I sent [ad network Pulse360 CEO Jann] Janes a link to a weight-loss product feeder site, he clammed up. The site is undeniably sketchy, and I found it on TBM via a Pulse360 ad. It’s a site with fake personas and dozens of links to a “free trial” product that actually costs $88.90 a month. I asked over and over again whether this was something that fit under the same ad guidelines that state “text that is not representative of the product/service being offered” is not allowed. Janes would not answer the question with a yes or no. Like a needle stuck on a record, he only repeated that if someone complained, “We have a responsibility to help the consumer and have a conversation with the advertiser about it.” He ended the conversation by saying, “The responsibility lies with the advertiser. Our responsibility is to run ads subject to our guidelines and terms and conditions.” But he still would not answer whether these ads were in compliance with the terms and conditions. Considering Pulse360 approved the ad, you would think he would say yes and stand behind the site. But no.
We don’t begrudge publishers running ads to make money, or ad networks making money in turn, but this is a case where everyone involved knows that these ads are a scam, and still let them proliferate. Hand me my Adblock.