As you, and everyone else, scroll through your Facebook news feed, you see ads each and every time. And this week, only a couple weeks out from the election, you’ve probably noticed more political ads than ever before. But I’m not going to talk about political ads.
If you watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix, but haven’t shut down your social media channels, then continue reading. I’d like to take a look into the deceptive marketing practices with the Facebook Ads that I am shown on my own feed.
In August and September, I was targeted with ads from a brand called Sherryjeans. Having run Facebook Ads through the Ads Manager, I’m aware of the types of targeting that can be placed on the ads. The brand could’ve bought my name on a list or the ad could be targeting through shopping demographics.
This is the ad:
If you only look at the photo, you’ll notice that it is the perfect time of year to see ads about Halloween items. You might just scroll by something like this. But not me. I love Halloween. And from this photo, I thought the half-white/half-skull shirt was adorable. The clothing caught my attention.
Then, I read primary text of the ad. This brand isn’t going to survive because of the world-wide pandemic. And that line made me kind of sad, so I wanted to learn more.
Instead of clicking on the ad, I searched for their Facebook page.
On the left-hand side of the page, there is a little box about Page Transparency. Page Transparency was created in an effort to increase accountability and transparency of Facebook Pages. Facebook now shares information about the Page and the people who manages it.
The page for Sherryjeans was created March 13, 2020. The people who manage this page are located in Macau and China.
In the United States, President Trump declared COVID-19 as a national emergency on March 13, 2020. This detail made me suspicious. And that’s why I want to talk about misleading or deceptive marketing practices.
According to the Better Business Bureau, misleading advertising happens when “in the promotion of a product or any business interest, a representation is made to the public that is false or materially misleading.”
This ad is telling me that their business is failing, and they are lowering their prices. As a marketing tactic, this preys on my emotions to feel bad for them. It makes me want to help their company by supporting them during the global pandemic.
As I click on the See More from the Page Transparency, there are 7 people in Macau that are connected to the Page and two in the Phillipines and one is not available (screenshot taken October 24, 2020).
I already know this page is running ads, because that’s how this whole rabbit-hole started. From this screen, I can continue on to view their ad library. All their ads are using the same type of messaging, but using different shirts for the images.
Sherryjeans has 79 different types of ads running. I scrolled down to the bottom and found that ad that was shown to me in my Feed, which has been active since September 17, 2020.
Instead of clicking through the ad to go to their website, I search ‘sherryjeans’ on Google. This is the SERP (search engine result page), where you can see they are also spending money on Google Ads.
As I scrolled around on their website, I found a shirt that I liked better than the one that was shown in the ad. It is a half-skeleton/half-white button up. And only $27.99? The shirt is listed at 50% off, so it appears that the customer is getting a good deal.
Then I notice a little number next to the shirt. Their website shows that 1420 of this item has already sold. But how can that be? Didn’t their handmade workshop fail?
I did the math. If all the sales were at the 50% off price, not including discounts, the sales from this one shirt alone is a profit of $39,745.80. And when I started browsing other items for sale, they all list the quantity sold. They’re making a profit.
Back to the deceptive marketing practices, how is it that they are using this misleading language on their ads when their business is doing just fine?
I looked into Facebook’s Advertising Policies. Number 23. Misleading Claims states that “Ads must not contain deceptive, false, or misleading claims like those relating to the effectiveness or characteristics of a product or service or claims setting unrealistic expectations for users such as misleading health, employment or weight-loss claims.”
But this ad doesn’t fall into any of the examples that are listed on the policy. I reported the ad from my timeline view. I don’t think it’s morally correct to prey on customer’s emotions to feel bad for a business failing during a global pandemic – even if it is true.
Reporting the ad didn’t stop other company’s ads from showing up in my timeline. Within a couple days, I received the same product from above in another ad. This time from Cozyleinen.de, which I have never heard of before.
Cozyleinen.de is selling the same shirt at the same low price of $27.99. Oh, and about the shop, they state that they “strive to offer our customers original, high quality and exclusive fashion products from independent designers.”
I looked into their Facebook Page and found that on their Page Transparency also includes admins people from Macau.
Oh, and even more creepy is that the messaging on the ads that they are running is exactly the same as Sherryjeans.
In the end, I didn’t buy the shirt from either website. I put all my efforts into exploring the brands online presence and using the tools that Facebook gives about page transparency and the ad library. These two brands could be the same the people selling the same items. Or one could be the vendor selling to a store. One brand could have copied the other brand’s ad copy and images. I don’t know, but I find the entire deep-dive slightly suspicious and slightly deceptive.
As I read through their privacy policies on their websites, which are near identical. Their shipping information both state “international standard shipping” that take approx 2-6 weeks. But neither directly state where the items are coming from and where to return your items to.
- Under the TOS Section 19: Sherryjeans’s website is operated by Starlink Global Holding Limited, located in Hong Kong.
- Under the TOS Section 18: Cozyleinen.de’s services are governed by the laws of Hong Kong.