How Get-Rich-Quick Ads Steal Google's Brand Equity

Sites Like Scottsmoneyblog.com Are Using the Search Giant's Success to Scam Consumers

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a world of double-digit unemployment and old-line industries in mid-collapse, here's a sales pitch tailor-made for the times: "Get Paid by Google."

Google: Get Rich
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Driving traffic to Google-inspired get-rich-quick ads are thousands of search and text ads on Google.

It's a pitch that's compelling millions of people to visit sites such as Kevinlifeblog.com, Scottsmoneyblog.com, Maryslifeblog.com and Googlemoneytree.com, all promising some variation on one theme: Just buy our guide and we'll teach you how to make thousands from Google, right in the privacy of your own home!

Ads appear on Google
Incidentally, driving that traffic are thousands of search and text ads on Google, such as "Make Money As You Sleep," and "G00gle Money Warning!" referring to sites such as YoogleMoney.com, Google-money-maker.info/canada and Googleprofitskit.com.

These sites are built to look like personal blogs and several have pictures of checks from Google and the same hard-luck story. Kevin Hoeffer and Mary Steadman, both from San Jose, Calif., for example, lost jobs as "boring account reps" before discovering how easy it is to make $5,000 "filling out forms for Google."

Scott Hunter was another "boring account rep" for a pipe manufacturing company in the New York area before he wised up and learned out to make mad cash from Google. "How can you go wrong with a company that is publicly traded on the stock market," he says -- humor unintended -- in a recorded testimonial. "I knew that as a company Google was solid and that the opportunity to make money with them was not BS."

Scottsmoneyblog.com had 2.2 million visitors in May, down from more than 4 million in April, according to web-analytics firm Compete. The fine print? "I do not work for Google and Google is in no way associated with this website."

Migrating to display
While these ads are mostly confined to search and text, there are signs that a migration to display is under way. A spokesman for ad network optimization firm Rubicon Project said they've been screening out the ads, much like some ad networks reject creative like the ubiquitous "belly-fat" ads.

Moreover, many of these enterprises use the Google logo on landing pages like Cashsecretclub.com and present themselves as partners or vendors to Google.

The scam here is obvious, but clearly the association with the trusted Google brand, which is minting money in ways a lot of people don't fully understand, suspends the normal skepticism people have for the likes of random Nigerian princes.

Google is aware of the problem, and a cottage industry of blogs has cropped up devoted to those aggrieved by the scam. "As Google is not affiliated with these sites, we can't comment on individual claims," a spokesman said. "However, we recommend that users exercise the same amount of caution they would when evaluating other types of get-rich-quick claims."

But the ads raise a number of issues, including why Google allows the use of its brand in search ads, in URLs for some of these sites and the familiar Google logo on sites peddling various schemes.

Google says its policy prohibits the use of trademarks in ads unless the advertiser is a reseller of the product, makes components for the product or is an information site. Google also takes action against advertisers that misuse the Google trademark.

But Google actually makes money from these scams because they bid up the price of keywords. The more effective the scam, the better it is for Google. That is, until it starts to take a toll on the Google brand.

Guess who else makes money?
"Ethics and legality aside, it has an impact on the Google brand, and it's certainly not positive," said Kevin Lee, chairman of Did-It. "It happens to be a Google problem because they are the Internet to a lot of people. It probably behooves Google to do a little educational advertising."

If the proliferation of these ads is any indication, Google is having trouble staying ahead of it. A spokesman said the company says it is working with the Federal Trade Commission "to counteract this beyond our own policies."

To its credit, it just claimed a couple scalps. "Get Paid By Google" was just rejected from the AdWords system, and Googlemoneytree.com just went dark.

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