Skip to main content

The Rise of Phony Ads and How They Ruin Reputations

Today, my Monday morning started with a bad Facebook review for a client who claimed we spammed them with ‘crass and inappropriate’ ads. My heart skipping a beat, I reviewed our ads for anything that could be considered crass, and (of course) came up empty. Reaching out to Facebook support for more insight, they filled me in on the growing epidemic inaccurate ads running that are practically impossible to find or track. While we have yet to find out if my client’s name is being falsely used, that is the unfortunate case for countless companies, celebrities, and influencers across the globe.  

Fake news is a term you hear daily in the media, but it has an equally bad relative…

Phony ads can look like promoting inaccurate success rates for products, creating falsified claims of numbers of satisfied customers, and fake celebrity endorsements.  

 Unethical advertising is not a new idea – there has been bad advertising since the dawn of marketing.  However, cutting-edge photoshop technology that can now even trick expert photo verifiers – both human and robot – we enter a dangerous age of not knowing what to believe in our online content. Group this with the impressive speed in which internet content can now be shared, and the perfect breeding ground is created for unethical practices like phony ads and fake celebrity endorsements.  

This newest trend giving marketers a bad name may have grown with the legitimate industry of influencer marketing. With the birth of social influencer marketing, celebrity endorsements are now an attainable practice with the right product and endorser. You see it all the time with athletes, prominent social media influencers, and even some larger celebrities. When conducted ethically, this marketing effort may be pricey but can lead to great results because people pat attention to the choices of their role models. Some businesses see these engaged followers and become more and more desperate to make their buck through product referrals and promotions. 

Enter Phony ads 

Some businesses took “fake it ‘til you make it” way too far with creating completely falsified claims in ads, blog post content, and press releases. Many of these phony ads contain fake info about prominent individuals in the public eye. Celebrities like Sandra Bullock, Dr. Oz, and Ellen DeGeneres are all in legal battlesDeGeneres are all in legal battles against the “John Doe’s” behind these schemes. Their reputations have come into play because followers and fans who truly care about their advice act on these ads, and end up with poor-quality products, terrible customer service, and even unsolicited charges.  

Facebook is *attempting* to stem the flow *sometimes* 

Who looks the worst in all this phony ad drama? The company that created the phony ad of course. But, because most of these online creeps are untraceable, the blame is falling on the social platforms that house the ads. Facebook has been apologizing to users for many things over the past few years, one of the major themes being fake news, clickbait, and yes, phony ads. They’ve run many a campaign with the message ‘we’re changing, we promise,’ and ‘it will improve soon.’ However, many individuals are experiencing cognitive dissonance surrounding this message, because earlier this month Facebook announced they won’t be taking down political ads that promote false information and fake news. So while yes, Facebook has some steps in place to stop ads, they are not perfect, and the current news stories surrounding Facebook are not necessarily a deterrent to creating fake ads. 

Why should marketers care? 

I’m going to assume you as a reader are not the phony ad perpetrator we’ve been discussing, and you don’t plan to take that title on any time soon. If we aren’t involved in this skeevy process, why do we need to be aware of it?  

Because our audience is affected by these phony ads. If they have a bad experience with one phony ad, chances are they will consciously or subconsciously disregard social ads altogether. That means our ad spend just got a whole lot less productive. 

So even if we aren’t running phony ads personally, the integrity and reputation of this entire marketing process relies on a maximum amount of companies following ethical and honest advertising processes. 


How can we combat this bad reputation in our ads? 

1) Don’t create phony ads. This is a no brainer, but let’s take this one step farther. Every stat, every sentence, and every word you place in your ad should be able to be backed up with hard-core facts. Refrain from using phrases like “Atlanta’s #1 cup of coffee”. This is inaccurate and impossible to verify. However, if you rank in TripAdvisor as the #1 coffee shop in Atlanta, that is a fact you can use and promote with hard evidence.  

2) You don’t need Ellen to get a product shout out. If you have an awesome product that has delighted your existing customers, it won’t be too difficult to gain some product shout outs or influencer promotions. Using smaller names with a more intimate audience makes the effort look more organic. These people are talking about your product because they love what you offer, not because 1000 likes gets them 100 dollars.  

3) Deliver on what you promote. Never offer anything in your ads that you are not completely ready to offer when someone engages. This means you don’t offer a new software beta publicly until it is ready to use. Don’t run an ad that offers a general discount when in reality the offer comes with multiple limitations.    


Focusing on being an ethical marketer not only gives your company a good name, but it boosts the idea of ads in our audience’s minds. When people trust ads, they engage with ads.  

Ready to create a great (and ethical) ad strategy? Reach out to our team! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *