Have you seen a rise in sneaky ads on Facebook?

I saw this linkbait on Facebook, apparently on a feud between Steph Curry and Lebron James– two NBA superstars.

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And it brought me to what looks like ESPN.

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The URL is a bit suspect, but most people won’t notice that, especially in modern browsers.

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Reading the first couple paragraphs of this “article”, I almost believe it’s real, but notice the slight awkwardness that’s a dead giveaway of fake article sites.

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This one is well-done, as it isn’t jammed full of spelling mistakes– a telltale sign of the white 18 year old males that predominantly create these landing pages.

Scroll a bit further into how Lebron supposedly admits that he only used steroids twice and you get links to these substances he allegedly used. Then on to spam in its full glory.

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Heck, if Lebron is using it, as “ESPN” is telling me, I might just fall for it– especially if I’m an 18 year old male myself.

Scroll a bit further and you get a Facebook comments box that looks legit.

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Of course, nothing is clickable, except links to the pills they’re peddling.

And if you click through to the product page, you can see they exposed their affiliate tracking

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Notice they’re pretty smart about testing their landing page and ad combos– minus the fact they’re not cloaking their links.

Cloaking, for those who don’t play in the affiliate space, is masking your URLs so competitors and snoops can’t see which affiliate you are, what traffic you’re bidding on, and so forth.

This pill company is a Wyoming company filed with a generic registered agent.
And they have private registration to try to hide who they are here, too:

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Their privacy policy is a template that others in this space (they’re called “rebills” or “continuity” products– a euphemism for recurring subscription charges.

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Notice that they are doing this on ESPN, USA Today, and all manner of sites.

The reason this works is because of a principle called “implied authority”, exercised in this way:

  • An “article” not an ad that appears interesting– sports rivalries are hot topics.
  • Posted on an authoritative news site– a fake ESPN, in this case.
  • A gradual progression from sports facts to full on performance-enhancement claims, normally taking 2-3 pages to blend smoothly.
  • Fake comments as social proof.

By merely copying the look of ESPN, Facebook, or whatever high authority publications, parasites can siphon trust.

What amazes me is not that spammers keep doing this (I chatted with one today that has a fake Stephen Curry Facebook page– who didn’t see it was clear infringement/impersonation) or that people still fall for this. I saw another one in the Digital Marketer Facebook group (one of my favorite communities) where this seller of marketing training straight up ripped off the website (words, colors, and all) from digitalmarketer.com.

Rather, gaining authority legitimately is not that much harder.

And when you have it done right– via the 6 phases of personal branding and the 6 phases of the Social Amplification Engine— you have sustainable results.

We’ve seen ploys like this since the beginning of Facebook and even since the beginning of search (back in 1999, nearly 20 years ago).

Can you imagine how the new wave of chatbots will create new forms of spam, too?

I’m not worried about spam getting out of control, any more than rain being a nuisance in New York City. Just get an umbrella and make sure to check the weather reports.

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