Question: Do you agree with this statement?

Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things

David Ogilvy

There is no such thing as an evil “tool”. It’s only those who are using the tool who are good or evil.

Of course, David Ogilvy, a high profile advertiser of modern day who pioneered direct response marketing (i.e. “growth hacking”)… could not say that some advertisers are evil, because that would’ve been bad for his career.

But times have changed and people are way more blunt now: so I’ll be blunt – some advertiser are pure evil.

(And some of these advertisers are either really dumb.. or really smart:)


I’ve seen shady affiliates basically rob merchants and unscrupulous merchants not living up its promises to affiliates.

And yes, I’ve even seen people who do TOS-breaking, totally unethical blackhat marketing get away with tens of millions worth of profits.

Granted, much of that is pretty much stealing – it’s pretty much black & white, guilty & innocent.

But there are far MORE grey-er sides of online marketing that you will never even see unless an expert like me points it out to you.

A lot of these tactics are morally questionable, but not illegal or unethical per se.

So should you know this stuff? Absolutely, because now with the world of business and internet colliding 24×7, you have to know what’s up and protect yourself. Or at least know what’s going on.

A) Bidding on Competitor’s Term in search engine marketing / pay per click

If you recall, bidding on your own company’s name or brand is actually a good thing.

On the flips side (which is actually dumb in terms of ROI but more often done) is someone bidding on your domain name or keywords.

Suppose you are a shoe ecommerce company that makes it’s own brand of shoes.

Your competitor makes cheap knockoffs that look like your stufff, but costs 1/2 as much.

In some cases, that competitor will do search campaigns where they bid on the same set of keywords you are bidding on, in hopes of getting some business (or shall i say… stealing your customers).

Now, this is kind of a “dumb” tactic, but often used.

Your competitor will get low quality score because if you’re searching for “ABC company” and “XYZ company”‘s ad shows up, it’s not relevant (i.e. low quality score) and won’t get clicked (low CTR). Low QS and CTR means low ad rank, which means the ONLY way to show up higher is to bid higher… which means your cost per lead/acquisition/sale will be higher.

So much that they might be doing at a loss.

So why do they do it? Often times, they are well funded, so their plan is to slowly “bleed” you to death.

But the real issue is… when they start bidding on your trademark.

Luckily for most of us, search engines must comply with each countries trademark laws, and you can request that they respect YOUR legal rights as well as long as that company is within the country where your trademark protection is enforced.

B) Fraudulent Ad Clicks

There are law firms / entities whose job is to make sure their clients’ trademarks are not infringed upon.

They have an army of people whose job is to click on your ads (no matter where it is… search engine, social media sites, blogs, news, wherever) and make sure that their competitor isn’t using their stuff.

Ever hear of click fraud? Yes, this is DOWNRIGHT click fraud.

If a bot (or a person) is clicking on an ad, for the purpose of generating a charge per click without having actual interest in the target, that is click fraud.

I’ve actually had customers who were served cease & desist letters because of some media copyright infringement, or some vague trademark policy that no one actually read.

Now, how big is this problem?

Probably not “huge” in the grand scheme of things… but if you’re in highly competitive market like insurance, finance, software, health / medical…. where your CPCs are $10 to $65 CPC… imagine what kind of damages you can do.

So you might be wondering… “are there companies whose sole job is to actually HURT advertisers?”

Yeap, there are.

If ABC company wants to really play dirty with XYZ, ABC can hire “DirtBag Clicks, Inc” to do nothing but click on XYZ’s super expensive ads just to drain their budget.

How does this benefit ABC? XYZ will say “ah boo, this PPC stuff doesn’t work” and eventually quit running those ads.

Voila! More ad space, less competition, and cheaper CPC for ABC company.

C) Leech Landing Pages

Problem with new sites or new products is that there’s no trust.

If no one trusts it, no one buys it.

I’ve seen really smart marketers basically use trusted 3rd party sites to get around this problem.


You write an article for some trusted PR site (by paying) and put a link to their actual product/service.

They use THAT page as the landing page, and people see a nice well known logo of a website that’s been in business for like 20 years.

Now, when they read the article, people TRUST it – they follow the link and voila! Conversion.

This is called pre-sell landing page and it can really boost your conversion rates if done well.

Now, there is nothing illegal, unethical, or immoral about it… it just happens that this tactic is often abused by people advertising low value products and services.

D) Reputation Damaging

If you’ve been doing any form of online marketing, you know that SEO (search engine optimization) is a popular way to drive traffic to your site.

However, in the darker areas of online marketing, I’ve seen companies use this to trash other people’s reputation.

Imagine if you’re ABC company and people are searching for “ABC company reviews”.

If your 1st page SERP (search engine results page) is littered with nothing but horrible reviews, customer complaints, government complaint letters, etc… i’m guessing your customer won’t be calling you any time soon.

You’ve heard of the phrase, there’s no such thing as good or bad PR… there’s just PR or no PR.

Well, in SEO, there IS such thing as ranking high for bad stuff.

Fortunately for you and others, SEO (like anything in life) is ever changing and the results aren’t static.

As long as you’re being a good business person and not trying to scam people, most of that will eventually phase out as long as

  1. you’re producing good content
  2. you’re constantly reaching out to people
  3. you’re “SEO”-ing good stuff (but i don’t really recommend SEO for sake of doing SEO).

Is there any thing else you’ve seen that you’d consider “grey” in online marketing?

Leave your thoughts in the comment box below.