By Harry McCracken | Monday, February 1, 2010 at 12:00 am
What’s the surest sign that the iPad is the world’s hottest tech product right now? It may not be Steve Jobs telling us it’s magical and revolutionary, or the avalanche of coverage on tech blogs. Maybe it’s the arrival of cheesy ads that dangle free iPads in front of people–almost two months before the gizmo even goes on sale.
Earlier today, I was on Facebook, and saw this ad:
Free iPods for 45-year-old males? I’m 45! I’m male! What a happy coincidence! What a rare opportunity!
I clicked on the link and saw this page:
Then I got suspicious–in part because the ad talks about the iPad being “just released!” when the one it talks about giving away is the 3G model that won’t be available for almost three months. I asked a couple of friends to check their Facebook account, and miracle of miracles–the offer was also available to 43-year-old females and 43-year-old males!
Then I also discovered that tweaking the URL on Online Reward Center’s site allowed me to extend the offer to other…demographic groups:
So what’s the deal? I clicked through and found a little fine print about having to complete eight “offers” to receive an iPad:
I started to click through the offers, which kept claiming to be “surveys,” although most seemed to be things like credit card offers and sweepstakes and free trials for various services, all of which wanted personal information from me (including, sometimes, my credit card info).
You don’t need to be a marketing guru to figure out that the business model behind the “free iPad” is convincing you to sign up for offers that pay a bounty (aka a referral fee) to those that send business their way.
I eventually reached this page:
Scanning through this, my head hurt, and I gave up on stepping through the deal.
Who’s behind this “Free iPad” offer? It’s not all that easy to figure out. The Facebook ad leads to a site called ThanksMucho.com, which McAfee Site Advisor says has potential security risks. It handed me off to something called “Online Reward Center.” It’s got some impressive-looking seals that don’t link anywhere (I especially like the “We Care” award):
And claims to be sponsored by three name brands: BMG, Discover, and the ever-laudable Video Professor:
But I couldn’t find any prominent mention of who Online Reward Center’s parent company is. Eventually, I found mention on the site of something called “Net Radiance.” By Googling around, I learned that Net Radiance is part of a Florida company, World Avenue, which got into trouble in the past with Florida and Texas for “free” offers and ended up paying those states a total of $1.8 million to settle. According to the Florida Attorney General’s office, World Avenue has done business under dozens of names:
A few years ago, the company attracted its attention for its “free iPod” offers–here’s a San Francisco Chronicle story that, among other things, charges that it paid one of the people quoted as giving it a customer testimonial.
World Avenue’s news page, incidentally, is entirely devoted to the company’s philanthropic activities. That reminds me of Vertrue, the marketing company I accidentally agreed to pay $25 a month to a couple of months back.
I’m curious whether Facebook has any policy about these “free offer” ads–and even more so about whether it has any policy about how an ad can use information it receives from Facebook, such as my gender and age. (Such as: Can it seem to claim I’m getting a special offer because I’m a 45-year-old male whether or not the offer has anything to do with my age and gender?) I’m contacting Facebook about all this and will let you know what I hear.
The ad I followed to the Online Reward Center isn’t the only “free iPad” one on Facebook. I chuckled at this one–which seems to be from a different company and which shows the world’s fattest iPad:
A friend who happens to be 33 and male saw an ad looking for iPad testers who are 33 and male:
…and when I Googled for “Free iPad,” I got ads that led to offers from both World Avenue and other companies:
(That last ad’s offer of a thousand bucks towards the purchase of an iPad is particularly generous given that the top-of-the-line iPad lists for $829.)
I’m also, um, fond of this ad, which not only says the iPad sells for $1,000 but shows an imaginary Mac-like widescreen model with an optical drive:
That’s a lot of opportunities to get a free iPad. Anyone want to hazard any guessses about how many free iPads will indeed be doled out?