Facebook Ads and Misleading Marketing Practices: A Thinkpiece

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.

Do you consider these ads to be using misleading or deceptive marketing practices?

More to explore

13 Comments

  1. October 25, 2020 / 6:07 pm

    Wow – this article is such an eye-opener for me. Looking at how you were able to investigate this so well and show up such dodgy practices was quite amazing and Facebook should just not allow this type of false and misleading advertising. The vast majority of people wouldn’t even know or think about how to go about checking this out more thoroughly as you did. It just goes to show how many people must be essentially ‘conned’ into purchasing things they think are a good cause or that they are getting a great deal.

  2. October 26, 2020 / 2:29 am

    I feel you! I often see it, it looks like a scam. I would never shop when company states they are closing off. It’s funny same trick was used my our local offline retail company who said they are closing off and selling everything at super low price to cover the salaries in 00s.

  3. October 26, 2020 / 9:00 am

    You conducted some great investigative work! I agree with you that these ads appear to be deceptive and playing on the emotions of the consumer. I would put a note in your calendar to check their website/FB page in about 4 or 5 months to see if they have really shut down!

    • October 27, 2020 / 11:32 am

      Good idea! I will add that onto my to-do list.

  4. October 26, 2020 / 11:00 am

    I have seen a lot of ‘different’ brands using wording about shutting down but selling similar or the same items and using the same copy. In doing my own research, I firmly believe that they are one company trying to leverage marketing to make more sales by claiming to be different companies – all, sadly, closing down in the face of our current economic crisis. They post elevated prices as the ‘regular price’ pitching their normal pricing as a ‘great deal’. It’s such an underhanded way to exploit the emotions of those reading their ads.

  5. October 26, 2020 / 11:05 am

    Yes it’s misleading, deceptive and dishonest! I see these on instagram a lot too. About time that the platforms did something to stop these.

  6. Elena Toma
    October 26, 2020 / 3:59 pm

    I remember that Facebook ad, because I could not forget that sweater with the black cats and the pumpkins, I really loved it and wanted to check it out. When I went to the sponsored post there were hundreds of people complaining about the fact that their ordered never arrived and that shop/vendor is a scammer.

  7. Gervin Khan
    October 26, 2020 / 11:27 pm

    Wow, this article is so informative and really taught me a lot when the marketing ads was deceptive or not.. Sometimes we need to check and verify the company ads/profile if their true or not before buying their products/s. Thanks for this really appreciate it.

  8. Denise
    October 27, 2020 / 3:33 am

    With so many ads on Facebook right now, this is really something everyone should be aware of and look into. There are still people who are trying to take advantage of what they can get out from this pandemic and we must be extra cautious of these things. Thank you for sharing how to check these types of misleading and deceptive ads.

  9. Jennifer Van Haitsma
    October 27, 2020 / 5:52 am

    Wow! That’s shady. Thanks for bringing light to this. I often wonder about a lot of the ads that pop up for me, and I rarely click them because they always seem like scams.

  10. October 27, 2020 / 7:12 am

    Very nice and an detailed description. People are usually so easily led and they are not aware of deceptive marketing practice.
    Have you consider about having online courses in order to teach people about online safety purchases? 🙂

  11. October 27, 2020 / 3:37 pm

    Oh wow – I had no idea! How shady is that? This seems really deceptive and an easy trap that some could accidentally fall into. So bummed that things like this exist out there.

  12. Dris
    October 28, 2020 / 12:21 am

    Thanks for sharing it’s so important to know this before you waste tons of money

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