Lawrence, Kan. – At first, I thought it was a promotion for an investigative story by an intrepid reporter working for 6News Lawrence, a sibling of the Lawrence Journal World newspaper’s LJWorld.com website.
The photo, on the front page of the LJWorld.com website, promotes an investigative story by a reporter named Shannon Fitzgerald. The story is about a local mother named Jessica Holcomb who turned $97 into $6,795. “We investigated and found a job that can earn you $77 hour from home,” says the photo caption.
Pretty compelling. Especially after reading how tough life had been for Holcomb until she discovered a way to make thousands of dollars a month by working from home.
The photo and the story it links to is a phony, a fake, a misrepresentation.
The photo doesn’t say it’s an advertisement. It gives readers the impression that it’s news content- an investigative report produced by a journalist.
Worse yet, LJWorld.com, a news organization dedicated to providing readers with factual information, earns money from the misleading ad each time you or I click on the photo expecting to read a true investigative account.
A slap on the wrist for LJWorld.com
The ad is actually for a company called Profit System Online.
The company markets a so-called “Internet Income System” that the ad claims made one local mom $6,795 a month while working 10-13 hours a week from home.
“Local mom turns $97 into $6,795,” says the photo caption. That $97 is what you’d pay to subscribe to the Profit System Online program.
What do you find when you get to the bottom of the fake investigative story about the stay-at-home mom? The mom who earns $6,750 a month working 10-13 hours a week from home?
You’ll find this small print from Profit System Online.
IMPORTANT CONSUMER DISCLOSURE
We are not affiliated in any way with any news organization. This is an advertisement for Profit System Online.
The small print goes on to say that the website is…
“based loosely off a true story, but has been modified in multiple ways including, but not limited to: the story, the photos, and the comments. Thus, this advertisement, and any page on this website, are not to be taken literally or as a non-fiction story. This advertisement, and the results mentioned on this advertisement, although achievable for some, are not to be construed as the results that you may achieve if you purchase the Profit System Online.”
Yes, it’s an ad. I personally believe it’s a deceptive ad because it hides the true sponsor behind the message unless you read the ad’s small print.
To me, this appears to be the case with Profit System Online whose ad tries to convince prospective customers with a message that appears, at first anyway, to come from an objective news organization rather than a company trying to convince people to buy an online marketing program.
Online research on the company raises some potential warning flags. The Reviewopedia.com questions the legitimacy of the Profit System Online program and cites customer complaints about the company.
The Reviewopedia website writes:
“To make matters worse they (Profit System Online) use some deceptive methods to promote these programs, the most common being the fake news sites. These are websites made to look like legitimate editorials but in fact they are completely fabricated. They feature a story of a stay home mom that was lucky enough to come across the Profit System Online and now makes a full-time income working an hour a day.”
Another website, BizClaims.com, published a complaint from a consumer against Profit System Online this month. The consumer said the program actually cost him $3,550 of which he has only received a small refund. He wrote:
“But I wanted to cancel the whole thing, as I understood it to be a one package deal, but they don’t want to give me almost $3,300 back. They told me that the terms of Premier Coaching Center clearly states in the terms that I only had three days to cancel. I FEEL I HAVE TRULY BEEN RIPPED OFF BIG TIME!”
In my humble opinion, the Profit System Online ad is also a poor reflection on LJWorld.com and its affiliates because it undermines the credibility of those news organization and its own talented, hard-working journalists.
LJWorld.com’s use of such ads raised some questions in my mind:
- Why would it allow an advertisement to confuse its readers.
- Why would it allow an advertisement masquerading as an investigative report to appear on the LJWorld.com website?
- Does LJWorld.com screen advertising content such as this?
- Does the LJWorld.com have advertising guidelines for its advertising content?
On Friday, I spoke by phone with Whitney Mathews, an online editor at LJWorld.com. She cheerfully explained that LJWorld.com buys into an ad network where the online ads originate. “What you’re looking at is something that’s becoming a lot more common in advertising,” explained Ms. Mathews.
“Doesn’t the use of such ads undermine the mission of the LJWorld.com website as a news organization?” I asked. “Not necessarily,” replied Mathews. “I think most of the users of the website are really familiar with the placement of advertising on online websites,” Mathews said.
“Who decides what ads go on the LJWorld.com website,” I asked. “That would absolutely be a question for the advertising department,” responded Whitney. She suggested I call Tamara Hand in the LJWorld.com sales department.
And that’s pretty much where things are tonight. I called Friday and left a phone message for Ms. Hand. So far, I have not received a return phone call from Ms. Hand or anyone else from LJWorld.com. If and when I do, I’ll give you an update.
I feel that being misled by an advertisement may cause readers to respond negatively to the LJWorld.com. Deceptive advertising may also undermine the effectiveness and believability of the news organization. Those are my thoughts anyway. What do you think?
Update: Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Despite leaving a phone message, I have not received a reply from Tamara Hand in the LHWorld.com sales department. A check of today’s LJWorld.com website reveals that the questionable ad is still appearing.