Internet Marketing Ethics – Is this Ethical?

How do you define an internet marketing campaign to be ethical? Have you ever thought about it? What standards do you adhere to? How do we hold our peers accountable?

These are some of the questions I asked myself this week after receiving an email from an internet marketing company. The email itself wasn’t offensive. It was what happened after I clicked on the email. Actually, it was what happened after I signed up for the FREE seminar that made my blood curdle.

The first email of the campaign was short, simple and enticing…

Debra,

Want a chance to win $30,000??

We’ve given away iPads, trips to Costa Rica, and all sorts of stuff.

Yes, I’m a bit CRAZY, but I guess you can say I’m in love with marketing.

To find out how you can win $30,000:

CLICK HERE!!!!

Of course, I’d love to win $30,000, who wouldn’t? So I click. The sales letter page then promises me the following:

three of the top marketing powerhouses from the Infusionsoft community (Ultimate Marketer: Bob Britton, SEO Expert: Grant James, and Internet Guru: Micah Mitchell) have now joined forces and developed the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT thing a business owner needs to triple their sales and profits in 12 months or less,

The landing page goes on to claim:

“We have decided to host a special “FREE Sneak Peak, Live Event“  for the first 100 people to register.”

“you can attend WITHOUT shelling out your hard earned cash for a plane ticket, a hotel room or ANYTHING else,”

YES! I Want To Be One Of Only 100 People To Attend This FREE Live Sneak Peek Event Into How Your Guys Systems Can Stuff An EXTRA $100,000+ Dollars This Year Into My Wallet! YES! I Also Want To Learn How I Can Win The $30,000 Cash”

Notice the use of the word free everywhere.

There was also a line that said this:

“having a one in 50 chance of winning $30,000”

If they are accepting 100 registrations, how do your odds become 1 in 50? There are no contest terms listed. No legalese at all anywhere.

Here’s the worst part…

Once you type in your name and email, they send you to a new page that says this…

“Your registration request for the “Infusion Elite Mastermind Sneak Peek Live Event” has been received, but before I can register you I first need you to pay a seat deposit of $97.”

“IMPORTANT!!: If you DO NOT pay the seat deposit, you WILL NOT receive a link for this event and you’re spot WILL NOT be reserved.”

And there is a video of the Infusionsoft Ultimate Marketing Award Winner (he makes this claim in the video) telling everyone why they need to pay $97 and they only get it back if they actually attend the event.

So they entice people with a $30,000 prize. They offer no terms and conditions regarding the contest rules. They play upon their relationship with Infusionsoft and their authority as the Ultimate Marketer of the Year. They tell you its free to join. Then after you sign up they say that you can’t complete the registration until you pay them $97.

I found this to be the type of campaign that gives internet marketers a slimy reputation. I found it to be borderline ethical and legal (deceptive advertising).

I now ask you, my readers,

What would you do?

Do you find this to be ethical?

Is this the type of role model we should be emulating?

Here’s a link if you want to check it out. PLEASE DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR MONEY!

About Debra Zimmer

After 25 years of growing entrepreneurial businesses at companies such as Microsoft, where she attracted 700,000 members into an online community in 18 months and then grew a second one to 250,000 members in 10 months, Debra Zimmer then struck out on her own to grow an online retail store to 6-figures of income and put it on AUTOPILOT for 3 years. With an engineering degree and an MBA from Columbia Business School, Debra is the undisputed expert in helping experts, entrepreneurs and executives to focus their brilliance and magnify their impact using social media and internet marketing tactics.

Comments

  1. @gbizzo says:

    thanks for sharing, that is exactly why social media sites like Twitter can’t sell anything because guys like this make people beleive everything offered on Twitter is a scam

  2. Shaun says:

    Hi Debra,

    Thanks for sharing this. The ad is unquestionably totally misleading. I’ve learned a long time ago to detect a scam when I see it. When something is super-hyped up, it usually doesn’t live up to it’s (in my opinion, outrageous) “claims” and further falls short of consumer expectations – as was ably demonstrated in your experience with this marketing campaign (a hem “scam!”) you received.

    I am not sure if the so-called three “marketing powerhouses” are the main promoters of this campaign or if their names were just mentioned to entice people to sign up (or both), but if that is the case, then they seriously need to re-think their titles as “marketing powerhouses”, because it doesn’t take a marketing genius to see how blatantly they contradicted themselves in this marketing campaign.

    If their objective was to have consumers pay for their product/service (what marketer’s objective isn’t that?), it would have been better if they gave a FREE seminar/preview (whatever) that communicates a general overview of how a business owner could triple his or her sales and profits in 12 months or less – i.e., enough information that would convince the consumer of its immense usefulness/value in helping him or her to make more money – and THEN provide the consumer with the option/choice to get all of the remaining details (or how-tos) for a FEE (a no brainer and basic marketing strategy). But instead, they LIED by saying it was free and then telling you that you must pay after getting all of your information.

    By not being up-front/honest from the beginning, they lost a potential customer (you, Debra) and gained a dubious reputation. Perhaps they should seek your advice and services, as it pertains to marketing (and not just marketing but “ethical” marketing). You could really teach them a thing or two (actually, much more than that)!

    Take care,
    Shaun

  3. Robert Tyler says:

    Debra,

    I love the article and you are so right about some so called marketing companies. They flat out lie and want your money up front. They are con-artists looking for easy prey.
    The folks I hate the most are the unethical marketing / SEO companies. The email they send you starts talking like they have know you all of their lives. They tell you they have done a review of where you stand in Google ratings and they can increase your traffic tenfold – overnight. I normally send them a nice email back pointing out all of the ways that they are not following the “Can Spam Act of 2003” and since their miracle company has not given me an option to unsubscribe or Opt-out of their unsolicited email, that they should take me off their list today. Then if they have sent their email from Yahoo.com, msn.com or gmail.com I report them to the abuse departments at the email provider of their choice. Normally this shuts down their email account and I never hear from them again. Each email takes about a minute of my day, so if I waste ten minutes a day fighting spam from unethical companies, it makes me feel better, and I have done my part to help rid the Internet of vultures and buzzards.

    Yes, there are alot of unethical companies out there so people like you and I must inform our customers and friends of such traps, as often as possible.

  4. Hi Debra

    It seems as though standard practice these days is to give something away in exchange for your contact details and from a fair trade perspective this is quite ethical.

    We all do this ourselves in the form of the golden carrot and the data capture box.

    However, like you, I am most irritated by the unsubstantiated claims that some of these marketing companies make and then combine this with unethical methods of entrapment to help you part with your cash, really makes my blood boil.

    I think that gaining a consensus this way first, to find out what your fellow peers feel, before reporting them to Google (which is probably the biggest killer for these guys) and any marketing body’s that they advertise to be members of and of course, finally, the company brands they they purport to be in partnership with, is the best way to deal with them, is the correct way to proceed.

    Moving forward, I think that this is a growing phenomena that undermines the trust required for the continuation of the “trade off” strategy to build databases of potential customers in exchange for samples of your expertise or trials of your service. It will therefore become vitally important for marketing bodies, to police this sort of activity and come up with an effective way of discouraging it.

    I guess that new internet bodies such as the Internet Marketing Professionals Association, IMPA, that I came across in my research into this subject, could be encouraged to take up the mantel on this if encouraged to do so? (Helen Alliy – President – 800 349 1935)

    You obviously feel strongly about this? Maybe you can help establish the protocol of “what to do” when you come across these people?

    Good luck with it and let us know what you decide to do. Maybe we can follow your lead over on this side of the Atlantic?

    Mark Stephens, UK

    1. Debra Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the notice about IMPA. I’ll check it out.

      I mentioned this whole incident to a friend last week who was the one who encouraged me to write a blog series about it. I’ve not spend as much time blogging lately, so I thought it was a good idea.

      I hadn’t thought of reporting someone to Google. Great idea. In this case, reporting to Google won’t be so valuable because I was solicited from an email to someone’s internal list. Actually, one of the organizer’s of this offer sent me the email.

      Now there are some others that I can report it to. I’m going to share it in detail in another post.

      Maybe it will turn into action steps. I’m getting some great suggestions here.

  5. Debra.

    Great post, well-written, useful, and perhaps more important than you may realize.

    In substance, this is no different than the email from the “barrister” in Nigeria who contacts me on a weekly basis to help me collect the $65 million estate left to me by my long-lost Nigerian uncle. I have more dead billionaire uncles in Nigeria than friends and relatives (dead, alive or otherwise) here in the U.S. (If you think about it for a moment, how many Moskovitz’s can there possibly be in Nigeria)?

    A few weeks ago, everyone in my wife’s address book received an email from her stating that she was in an accident in Scotland and needed $2,200 wired to her immediately. It must have had SOME impact, because she and I received many phone calls from people who just wanted to make sure it wasn’t true.

    I recognize that the email scams I mentioned aren’t the same as the marketing scam you identified, but, I use them to illustrate a point. In reality, there ARE people who fall for these email scams – we read and hear about them all the time. If even a small percentage of people can fall for blatantly ridiculous email scams like the ones I just described, I’d be willing to bet that a greater percentage fall for the more subtle internet marketing schemes you describe. Quite frankly, to me, they’re the same, different only in form.

    I think we can all agree that the scheme you encountered is unethical, at best. However, the internet is still the wild, wild, west, where ethics, rules, deceptive practices, and regulations are concerned. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that laws and regulations can keep pace with technology or the ones that abuse it. Experience in the “real world” has taught me that for every new regulation, there’s always been someone smart enough to get around it. That’s in the “real world.” In the online world, the same holds true, except for the fact that it happens exponentially faster. My guess is that even if their site were shut down, these clowns would be back up and running in less than a day.

    Here’s the point of all this babble: It may be a cruel reality, but the responsibility to put a stop to this epidemic is firmly in the hands of the potential consumer. People simply need to change their “clicking” behavior. You can have the best malware software in the world, but all it takes is one misguided click to destroy your computer. Blogs such as yours and the presence of social media go a long way toward educating people, creating trust, awareness, and credibility. Quite frankly, Debra, I would have never downloaded your ebook and subscribed to your blog if I hadn’t seen you around LinkedIn and perhaps exchanged a few words. Unfortunately, most of the “victims” of the schemes you describe haven’t had that educational experience – yet. Eventually, they will, but it will take time (great topic for your next blog – “Learn how to click responsibly.” Feel free to use the title). Unfortunately, the bad guys are generally fairly creative and usually one step ahead, so it won’t take long for the next scheme to appear on the scene. That’s why I believe consumer behavior is more important than regulation.

    Two other points: By my calculations, if 100 people sign up for something where 1 in 50 wins, it is not unreasonable for one to conclude: “If I sign up, I have a 50% chance of winning.” Think about it for a moment – it’s not mathematically incorrect, then consider it from the perspective of someone who’s been unemployed for a year. Millions of people make dumber bets every day when they play the lottery. (Not to suggest that people who play the lottery are necessarily dumb. Indeed, I’ve purchased a ticket or two in my day. But statistically speaking, in order to win the lottery on any given day, one would have to spend more on lottery tickets than the actual winning jackpot is worth.)

    Finally, when someone promises me “the one thing” I need to know to earn a million dollars an hour online (or some similar claim), it had better read, “the one thing you need to know in order to is that there is no such thing as ‘the one thing.'”

    Anyway, thanks for the article and keep up the good work,

    Jeff

    1. Debra Zimmer says:

      I agree Jeff. We can all turn our back and the problem will continue. That’s why I decided to write about it.

      You know, I am not perfect. I am not without fault. I’ve made mistakes. Then I realized that when someone tells me I made a mistake, I will do my best to fix the situation. That has not happened here. I have told them their behavior isn’t ethical and I’ll share the responses in my next blog post.

      I felt uncomfortable at first calling my colleagues on this. But as one of the most informed consumers on the subject, if I don’t do it, who will protect the people who don’t know? And, who will protect the integrity of my profession?

      More coming on the subject. It will be interesting to see where this story ends. These marketers are prepping to launch this offer on a larger scale in a few days.

  6. Bob Britton says:

    Hi Debra,

    While I appreciate your point of view on our recent campaign, I completely disagree with your assessment and the conclusions you draw.

    First off, we were not marketing that ‘to the masses’, and the landing page and website were only setup for people we have a prior relationship with. So asking them to opt in was actually redundant (they and you I’m guessing) were already on the list.

    It was not intended to be ‘mass marketed’, so I’m not entirely sure how you got on our list??

    As a private event, I believe we have the right to handle it any way that we see fit, and within the bounds of all applicable laws.

    We didn’t intend to divulge all the details of the 30,000 prize on the landing page, nor did we divulge how someone would enter the contest and win it. But rest assured it is our intention to award that prize to someone.

    I hope you can see from our perspective how asking someone to register and then pay to attend a private training event would be not only ethical, but a good business decision.

    Thanks for you post, and attention.

    I wish you well,

    – Bob Britton

    1. Debra Zimmer says:

      Hi Bob, Thank you for taking the time to comment. I just want to clarify. I have not said that this was “mass marketed”. I was on one of your colleagues lists.

      I’d like to understand the following. If I am already an opt-in customer, and you don’t need to have me opt-in again, then why did you need to tell me that opting-in would give me access to a FREE Live Teleseminar? Why not come right out in the beginning and say that a deposit would be required. Why lie and say it is FREE? You say 3 times that it is a FREE teleclass and yet AFTER I opt-in you tell me there is a second step which requires a deposit. If you told me that BEFORE I gave you my name, then I wouldn’t have had much of a problem with that aspect of your campaign.

      My issue is the use of the word FREE. I don’t have a problem with you asking people to pay to register for a private event. But I do have a problem when you start out telling them its FREE and then AFTER they have registered, tell them their registration isn’t complete until they take a second and PAY a deposit. Just be forthright in the beginning.

      As an internet marketer, this looks to me like you are trying to use psychology to manipulate your customer. If you get us to say yes 2 times, we are more likely to say yes again. It’s our drive to behave consistently. You are making a big offer on your teleclass and you want to prime people to say yes to your next offer. There really is no other good reason for misleading us on the first page. The story that you just want committed customers doesn’t fly with me. They are committed only because they behaved consistently with their first action, to opt-in to the free event. You promised them a 1 in 50 chance to win $30,000. That’s enough incentive for many people to give you a deposit. But I believe the only reason you would do this is to get them committed to saying yes to your next offer. I don’t understand any other reason to mislead your customer.

      If you have other logical reasons for misleading customers on your opt-in page with the use of the word FREE, please share.

      My second issue is with your contest and the prize. According to federal law, you can not charge people to have access to a contest. You might believe you have the right to announce a contest to all the people on your list and NOT reveal the terms, but federal laws claims otherwise. I’m not an attorney, but I can tell that this is pushing the gray area and that you are not giving everyone equal access to the prize.

      I don’t doubt that you will award that prize. I don’t question that. It’s ACCESS to the prize that I have a problem with. You have created a monetary boundary between the 3000+ people you invited to win a prize, and the actual ability to enter to win the prize. Not sure how you got to the point that you “believe we have the right to handle it any way that we see fit”. Sure seems that your lawyer didn’t review it.

      The only value I see to handling the contest the way you did was to ensure people had a big enough incentive to go through your two registrations steps. Again, it looks sure looks like psychological manipulation to me. Entice me with a contest to win $30,000 and then require me to pay money to enter.

      I’d love to understand how I’m wrong here.

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