I know if you’re like me, you’re getting sick of the proliferation lately of “this video was banned” ads showing up on Google Ads remnant advertising, like the kind we rely on here at Freethought Blogs to keep our lights on. They only show up if you’ve opted out of more targeted advertising by Google, and they only show up if a site doesn’t have a specific ad sell — and at the moment we’ve got, to my knowledge, a few ad buys, but not a ton. So we’re seeing a normal level of background remnant network ads, as odious and mistargeted as they tend to be (especially if you’re one of those aforementioned opt-outs, like me).
But there’s something weird about these newer ads, the ones with the offensive pics of women practically falling out of their tops and the tagline suggesting these viral videos were banned by Google (the very ad seller they use) — the ones exhorting a new secret trick that you need to see before The Establishment ruins it for you. If you dare click through, it turns out they’re using
one weird a new tactic, one you might have seen before with those “One Weird Tip of a Flat Belly” ads. Alex Kaufman explains:
I clicked on my first ad, which promised a cure for diabetes. Specifically, I hoped to “discover how 1 weird spice reverses diabetes in 30 short days.” The ad showed a picture of cinnamon buns. Could the spice be… cinnamon? Maybe I would find out. The link brought up a video with no pause button or status bar. A kindly voice began: “Prepare to be shocked.” I prepared myself. As “Lon” spoke, his words flashed simultaneously on the screen, PowerPoint-style. As soon as he started, Lon seemed fixated on convincing me to stay until the end. “This could be the most important video you ever watch,” he promised. “Watch the entire video, as the end will surprise you!”
Every time Lon seemed about to get to the spicy heart of the matter, he’d go off on a tangent. This video wouldn’t stay on the Internet for long, he said. The cure is for people “ready to put down the flaky answers.” Indeed, “if you’re looking for a miracle cure or new age fad, leave this page now.” Lon also took pains to trash the medical establishment. Big Pharma has been lying to you, he said. They profit every time you take their pills, or inject yourself with their needles. But the secret spice Lon discovered can free you of the lies and the needles. You will “look and feel like you were never sick.” Your doctor will confirm your cure, astounded.
What is Lon up to? “People tend to think something is important if it’s secret,” says Michael Norton, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School. “Studies find that we give greater credence to information if we’ve been told it was once ‘classified.’ Ads like this often purport to be the work of one man, telling you something ‘they’ don’t want you to know.” The knocks on Big Pharma not only offered a tempting needle-free fantasy; they also had a whiff of secret knowledge, bolstering the ad’s credibility.
This sounds like the kind of thing we skeptics need to get ahead of. Advertisers for dubious products have discovered how to get people’s attention by setting expectations really high, by manipulating certain trustworthiness factors in their presentation by not making it look TOO professional, by getting their hooks into people’s psyches and keeping them from realizing how slick and manipulative the tactics actually are. I’ve seen these tactics, these “one weird tricks”, these “this video got banned”‘s, used to advertise everything from penis enlargement to naturopathy to pick-up artistry. Every one is a bloody scam, you just know it. And yet I’m compelled to listen to them now and again, to see what depths of depravity they can reach.
It’s fascinating that these tricks apparently work — hooking people with the lure of secret knowledge, then yammering on for half an hour while you promise you’re getting close to the big secret, and leaving people with this incorrect view that they just heard half an hour worth of good reasons to believe your story. And then the big reveal is, of course, a sales pitch. At the end of everything, at the end of having invested half an hour listening to empty rhetoric as a filter to get to an order form page, people are actually buying the product. This is somehow playing on some psychological tenets we share — some bugs in our decidedly buggy evolved brains. It reminds me a lot of how religions spread, in fact. Tons of empty words that leave you feeling like you just heard a lot of reasons to accept what came next, then a line of bullshit you have to be willing to swallow whole.
Kaufman’s article explains a few other tactics that are common to this new breed of sleazoid marketing. You’d do well to bone up on their tactics, and figure out ways to counter them.