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Fake advertising: time for the platforms to act

17 Sep 2019  |  Nick Manning 
Fake advertising: time for the platforms to act

Why do the fake ads that con platform users out of serious money seem not to concern our industry, asks Nick Manning

Good news for everyone. You can now all give up your jobs without sacrificing your lifestyle thanks to Sir Richard Branson. He is bringing financial freedom FOR ALL UK residents. Without exception.

Sounds improbable? Well, check out this frankly hilarious editorial/advertising combo from ‘Bitcoin Evolution’ freely available today on Twitter and other platforms.

Firstly, they’ve spoofed the ‘Mirror’ masthead to masquerade as a news story, updated to repeat daily. Then they have invented an entirely fictitious interview with Branson on ITV”s ‘Good Morning, Britain’ (another spoof) where he supposedly promotes trading in bitcoin, even conducting a ‘live test’ with the presenters to see how much they could gain.

As the caption states ‘All residents of the UK has (sic) access to crypto trading’.

So we have a pirated masthead and made-up TV interview masquerading as editorial to promote a self-enrichment scheme.

The ‘editorial’ clumsily morphs into advertising, but it is advertising pure and simple.

Except it’s certainly not pure. Yes, it’s a scam, designed to deprive you of your hard-earned cash. Don’t resign yet.

Anyone daft enough to be taken in by the ostensible objectivity of Branson, The Mirror and ITV is told how to join in with this bonanza. Needless to say, there are 116,000 comments from punters, all saying how utterly marvellous ‘Bitcoin Evolution’ is, with the occasional faux comment thrown in to deceive readers further.

Also needless to say, all the links on the site lead nowhere other than the page where you are lured into the trap, and apparently subject to immediate hard-sell calls.

Ad fraud costs advertisers money, but this is taking people’s hard-earned cash.

Another celeb to be spoofed is Gordon Ramsay, who has been able to buy his ‘ninth Ferrari’ on the proceeds. Apparently ‘Brits are raking in millions’. Jamie Oliver, Ant McPartlin and even dear old Jim Davidson have been used in this way.

Is this new and unprecedented? Not at all. It’s been going on for years, has been exposed as a scam on multiple occasions, and the various celebs have all distanced themselves from this con. But this hasn’t stopped it.

I’m not a lawyer, but it looks like deception at best and crime at worst. This all raises a number of questions:

- Why can’t influential people like Branson and Ramsay stop it happening?

- What more can the Mirror and ITV do to stop their vehicles to be used to promote a scam that is deceptive and causing real hardship?

Who can clean this up? It’s a global con, with links to such models of propriety as the most secret tax havens and offshore call-centres.

But the real question, surely, is the role of the platforms in preventing these scams and protecting their users. They are aware of these schemes but seem unable to stop them, while happily taking the revenue.

We’re used to the idea of ‘Fake News’ and the platforms’ denial of responsibility, but fake advertising that cons platform users into losing serious money does not seem to be a concern to the platforms.

At the LEAD conference held by the Advertising Association earlier this year, the big platforms were rightly chastised for their lack of commitment to cleaning up egregious examples of abuse, usually involving ‘Fake News’ and questionable advertising. This is both but it’s affecting people, not corporations.

Specifically the platforms were criticised for their failure to proportionately fund the Advertising Standards Authority, who cannot keep up with the spread of misleading ad content, let alone the pirating of intellectual property.

The ‘Bitcoin Evolution’ example is in a different league, where ‘Fake News’ meets misleading advertising at a global scale.

As things stand, the beneficiaries of the ‘bitcoin’ con are the fraudsters and the platforms. This is not a good look for Facebook, Twitter and their peers.

It is time for the big platforms to exercise their unprecedented power and remove such wanton deception from their sites. Yes, it’s difficult to police the internet but the platforms cannot continue to bank the revenue from fraudulent schemes and do nothing about them.

No wonder the public have become cynical about content and advertising in particular. Fake and misleading advertising cannot be allowed to continue, and the platforms have to be front and centre of the clear-up.

Nick Manning is the co-founder of Manning Gottlieb OMD and was CSO at Ebiquity for over a decade. He now owns a mentoring business, Encyclomedia, offering strategic advice to companies in the media and advertising industry. He writes for Mediatel each month.

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27 May 2020 

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