OK, admit it. I play games on my phone.
Also, I’m cheap, so I play the free, ad-supported versions.
You might call this a brain-dead waste of time, but I prefer to think of it as diligent and brave investigative journalism. The time I spend playing Bricks Ball Crusher or Toy Blast is, in actuality, my research into the dark recesses of advertising on behalf of you, the more cerebral and discerning readers of this blog. I bravely sacrifice my own self-esteem so that I might tread the paths of questionable commerce and save you the trip.
You see, it was because of my game playing that I was introduced to the seediest of seedy slums in the ad world, the underbelly known as the in-game ad. One ad, in particular, reached new levels of low.
If you haven’t heard of the Keto Gummies Scam, allow me to share my experience.
This ad hawked miracle gummies that “burn the fat off you” with no dieting or exercising. Several before and after photos show the results of these amazing little miracle drops of gelatin. They had an impressive supporting cast. The stars of the TV pitchfest “Shark Tank” had invested in them. Both Rebel Wilson and Adele had used them to shed pounds. And then — the coup de grace — Oprah (yes, the Oprah!) endorsed them.
The Gummy Guys went right the top of the celebrity endorsement hierarchy when they targeted the big O.
As an ex ad guy, I couldn’t ignore this ad. It was like watching a malvertising train wreck. There was so much here that screamed of scam, I couldn’t believe it. The celebrity pics used were painfully obvious in their use of photoshopping. The claims were about as solid as a toilet paper Taj Mahal. The entire premise reeked of snake oil.
I admit, I was morbidly fascinated.
First, of all the celebrities in all the world, why would you misappropriate Oprah’s brand? She is famously protective of it. If you’re messing with Oprah, you’ve either got to be incredibly stupid or have some serious stones. So which was it?
I started digging.
First of all, this isn’t new. The Keto Gummy Scam has been around for at least a year. In addition to Oprah, they have also targeted Kevin Costner, Rhianna, Trisha Yearwood, Tom Selleck, Kelly Clarkson, Melissa McCarthy — even Wayne Gretzky.
Last Fall, Oprah shared a video on Instagram warning people that she had nothing to do with the gummies and asking people not to fall for the scam. Other celebrities have fallen suit and issued their own warnings.
Snopes.com has dug into the Keto Gummy Scam a couple of times. One exposé focused on the false claims that the gummies were featured on “Shark Tank.” The first report focused just on the supposed Oprah Winfrey endorsement. That one was from a year ago. That means these fraudulent ads have been associated with Oprah for at least a year and legally, she has been unable to stop them.
To me, that rules out my first supposition. These people aren’t stupid.
This becomes apparent when you start trying to pick your way through the maze of misinformation they have built to support these ads. If you click on the ad you’re taken to a webpage that looks like it’s from a reliable news source. The one I found looked like it was Time’s website. There you’ll find a “one-on-one interview” with Oprah about how she launched a partnership with Weight Watchers to create the Max Science Keto gummies. According to the interview, she “called the CEO of Weight Watchers and said ‘if you can’t create a product that helps people lose weight faster without diet and exercise, then I’m backing out of my investment and moving on.”
This is all complete bullshit. But it’s convincing bullshit.
It doesn’t stop there. Clickbait texts with outrageous claims, including the supposed death of Oprah, get clicks through to more bogus sites with more outrageous claims about gummies. While the sites mimic legitimate news organizations like Time, they reside on bogus domains such as genuinesmother.com and newsurvey22offer.com. Or, if you go to them through an in-app link, the URLs are cloaked and remain invisible.
If you turn to a search engine to do some due diligence, the scammers will be waiting for you. If you search for “keto gummies scam” the results page is stuffed with both sponsored and organic spam that appear to support the outrageous claims made in the ads. Paid content outlets like Outlook India have articles placed that offer reviews of the “best keto gummies,” fake reviews, and articles assuring potential victims that the gummies are not a scam but are a proven way to lose weight.
As the Snopes investigators found, it’s almost impossible to track these gummies to any company. Even if you get gummies shipped to you, there’s no return address or phone number. Orders came from a shadowy “Fulfillment Center” in places like Smyrna, Tennessee. Once they get your credit card, the unauthorized charges start.
Even the name of the product seems to be hard to nail down. The scammers seem to keep cycling through a roster of names.
This is, by every definition, predatory advertising. It is the worst example of what we as marketers do. But, like all predators, it can only exist because an ecosystem allows it to exist. It’s something we have to think about.
I certainly will. More on that soon.