The Promise of Weight Loss & Free Government Money… but at what cost?

Written by Zac Johnson
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It’s no surprise that millions upon millions of dollars have been made off of the latest acai berry craze. No matter where you go online, you see those “One Simple Rule: OBEY” ads and the weight loss banners that are wide spread across nearly all sites. If nothing else, this in itself just proves how much money is being made with acai offers.

However, making money with acai berry is nothing new. It’s the fake blogs, fake testimonials and now the voice of every one who signed up to one of those acai offers. In the affiliate industry it’s no secret why the acai berry offers are so hot. It’s not uncommon for affiliates to see click rate earnings of $1-$3 per click for acai campaigns. These offers are always paying over $40 per signup, just for the end user to request a trial and pay a small $3.95 charge. The buyer is later nailed for numberous $80+ charges if they don’t cancel within 14 days. It’s in the small print… but no one reads it.

So what’s the purpose of talking about acai berry offers now? We already know the market is saturated, huge media buys have banners everywhere and it’s a tough niche to break into if you haven’t already.

What’s drawing new excitement to acai is the backlash from consumer charges and how hard it is to actually cancel yourself from these occurring charges.

A great video just came out from from 10News.com, which has a couple buyers from the acai berry sites and how they are unhappy about their charges. This is nothing new, but what is funny, is when the reporter calls the acai supplier over the phone and how their “outsourced” operator insists they are from Florida, then hangs up when asked “where in Florida?“. Later on in the video, the news station visits the headquarters, and there is a scurry to close up shop and keep them out.

It’s no surprise the news is finally taking notice on this, but more of a surprise how slow they are at it. Even though Facebook allowed “weight loss / acai” offers for the longest time, they finally caught on with the fake blogs and auto billing.

The same holds true for the latest craze in government grants. Just like the acai offers, when a consumer pays a small shipping fee for their government grant kit, they are then autobilled. Once Facebook lifted most of their ad terms a few weeks ago, the network was loaded up with Obama government grant offers. A couple weeks later Facebook said “no more grant offers“.

The same thing that happened to acai berry offers, is now cycling through government grants and teeth whitening. The flogs (fake blogs) have proven to work, and will be beaten to death until they stop working or new terms come into place… which isn’t likely any time soon.

While acai berry is finding itself in the new more and more, some sources are catching onto the government grants as well. In the latest issue of Consumer Reports, they warn readers about signing up to government grant web sites, which will end up costing them more than saving.

Whether you think it’s a moral issue, bad business ethics or just about making money… you can’t point the finger at one person. The affiliates, networks and suppliers are in this one together, and they are all making money. What are your thoughts on the acai / government grants craze, and can (should) affiliate marketers be held liable their promotion tactics? I guess only time will tell…

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23 Replies to “The Promise of Weight Loss & Free Government Money… but at what cost?”

  1. I wouldn't run acai or grants because I'd rather build resources for people that are actually valuable, that will yield me long-term results instead of short-term profit. Everyone draws their line in a different place.

    I don't blame people running it – if people are dumb enough to sign up for this garbage it is their own fault in many cases. However it can't feel good knowing you're virtually scamming people… and having a clear conscience is a good feeling.

    But like I said, I don't think you can blame the affiliates… its like putting a kid in a room – alone with candy – and expecting him not to eat it without telling him not to eat it.

    The Facebooks and Aff Networks of the world have to take the moral high road and force the ethics to trickle down. Its not easy for the networks to pass up the money either, I understand its similar no matter where in the food chain you are. I'd rather just be eating more… healthy food.

  2. I personally don't like to promote these types of offers for a couple of reasons, but mainly because of the competition level. I'm not sure how affiliate marketers could be held liable for their promotion styles. If anything it should be the responsibility of the companies and affiliate networks for allowing sketchy companies to have offers on their networks. Interesting post. It's got me thinking.

  3. i saw this video earlier today too. i've heard from aff's that it does well (of course) and i've heard from other aff's that they would never promote something that people don't fully intentionally want. if i step back, it's a classic case of buyer beware. even though it's in small print, it does state that there are recurring fees. no $3.99 bottle of anything is going to make you lose the 20 lbs you've been dying to shed. i wouldn't promote acai (esp now) but i won't judge those who do. it's capitalism at its best? worst?

  4. Zac the marketing tactics of Acai and Government Grants has been bothering me for a while now. The flogs are just down right dishonest and it just screams scam. I don't promote an offer unless I feel like it actually helps the consumer. At the end of the day if I don't feel good about what I do then there's a problem. Many offers like Acai and Government Grants show up on the CPA networks and both affiliates and networks are responsible for what we are seeing in the media now. Networks need to keep the scams out and affiliates need to stop promoting them. This is the same thing that happened in Wall Street and the mortgage companies. That whole fiasco was the result of greed. Crappy lenders gave out loans people couldn't afford, investment companies bundled them up and sold them, realtors sold houses that people should have never bought, etc. Affiliates and the networks are doing the same thing. A few people make a lot of money, but in the end it's everyone who ends up paying for the greed.

  5. This flogging business is actually ridiculous. Blogging is becoming very popular, and statistics are showing the creation of huge amounts of new blogs on a daily basis, but I am surmising that a very large percentage of these are flogs!

  6. We slowly learned that half of the stuff people say on the internet is a scam but strangely when it comes to weight loss everyone wants to believe in the "pill" personal story or the "magic tea" personal blog. Are we becoming so stupid or just so lazy and taking a pill is a lame excuse for trying to control your weight?

  7. Zac,

    I am saddened by the greed and total lack of integrity of these scams practiced by so-called 'Affiliates'. Crooks would be too kind of a word for these money-grubbing lowlife marketers.

    Especially in an economy that cannot afford further setbacks, to discover that what you thought was an honorable business transaction turns out to be a mini-Bernie-Madoff-ripoff is just too unbelieveable!

    I am trying to begin my on-line marketing efforts with integrity, honesty and for the long term benefits of all. Do I now need to pre-warn my customers that the offers I am promoting may have a huge future financial hit waiting in the shadows?

    These kinds of stories are causing me to re-think whether making money online is a reputable business, or one that is designed to take advantage of the consumer, no matter what the end result.

    Respectfully,

    Nicholas Chase
    http://www.twitter.com/nachase

  8. @Logan:

    If an affiliate marketer is down right lying about what a product can do – in my opinion that is false advertising and they should be help responsible for there actions – legally and professionally. But that falls to the networks to enforce stricter policies.

  9. @Nicholas Chasen:

    At the end of the day – if there person who is going to sign up for an offer does not read before they buy – its there own faults if they lose money. Its that simple!!!!

    All of the diet offers I promote all state there is an autoship program. Funny thing is – these free trials have been around for a long time – people just don't learn. just so you know – I am not doing what Zac calls a flog either.

    There are tons of ways to make money online and all you have to do is decide if you want to make money or not.

  10. Yea, I'm not a supporter of these types of sites. While it is the user's responsibility to read the fine print and be smart about what they're doing, I feel like this is not the type of stuff I want to expose my users to.

    It feels too much like a scam and while I'm in it to make money, I don't want to make money at the expense of my readership, but instead, at our mutual benefit.

    Thanks a lot for posting about this, I'd seen a number of these ads but hadn't known the details behind them!

  11. Its sad that some people out there will look to exploit the weakness of others for personal gain. I know this is business 101 in some aspects but still, running a scam like this just ruins it for all others with the entrepreneurial spirit. This was a good eye opening perspective you wrote up and totally agree with you.

  12. The weight loss industry must be one of the most successful industries there is.However, you don´t need any pills to lose weight, all it takes is some determination by eating less and moving more.

  13. If it is ok to exploit the stupidity of people, then you might as well kill your autistic brother.

  14. We are microwave people. Pop it in and it's done in 60 sec, no work required. We want it fast and with little work.

  15. If it's scam (and it often is), why do authorities not pay attention to this? If the situation gets more serious and punishment will be mentioned, affiliate networks will get rid of such offers in mere seconds

  16. I'm surprised that Facebook isn't more careful about the advertisements it allows. They should have a review committee examine spam-like ads.

  17. I've been tracking the Government Grant/Google Business sites since December 13, 2008 and they seem to be never-ending. I'm up to 404 of them now.

    Most of the sites are using the same check – and the routing number on the check is invalid.

    The national BBB Alert on various Acai Berry Scams is here.

    Unfortunately, when the FTC steps in they usually give companies a "clean up period" before pursuing further action. I was watching the 2007 FTC negative option workshop videos and it was a bit sad at how few cases are actually prosecuted.

    I calculated the cost to consumers of ONE Free Trial Grant offer based on QuantCast numbers, an estimated conversion rate of 2% (probably low) and a retention period of 2 months (i.e. before they discovered the charges) and for that ONE product the cost to consumers would be close to 4 Million Dollars.

    Once one of these offers gets enough complaints, they set up a different site or if necessary even create a new corporation.

    The other problem is that the "gripe boards"/"complaint sites" that rank highly typically don't offer much assistance in helping the consumers actually file the proper complaints with the FTC, IC3, AGs, BBBs, or other non-profits that are more directly involved in providing data to federal agencies such as the National Consumers League.

    Paul Schlegel

    Brads Money – Where's that Government Check?

  18. Consumers need to be smart consumers. I personally do not make a purchase unless I am confident that either the product is what I am expecting and if it isn’t there is a way that I will be able to recover my investment or cost. These acai or grant offers are free trials, which means once the trial period is over you either like the product and will be charged to continue to use it or you turn it back over for your money back. My suggestion to consumers- make an educated buy.

  19. This is how we hurt ourself in the longrun. I also poromoted both of them but after a conversation with a friend of mine I decided to stop. The main point is, that every customer who is getting ripped off by those programs will think twice the next time he has to use a credit card online and this fact will lower all our checks in the long run.

  20. A friend told me of his great succes with soe Acai berry. I'm glad I didn't buy any.

    Jason and Jacques, I never heard the term Flogs – I love it.

  21. Like most people who have replied, I would not promote something that did not have integrity. It wouldn't sit well and is the kind of thing that can give affiliate marketing a bad name.

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