The Oscars are fast-approaching and will air this Sunday, March 2nd. Web searches for related terms tend to spike in the days leading up to the show, and this year seems to be no exception. Just check out this Google Trends graph and you can see the uptick starting to form.
So, noting the influence that The Oscars have on searches, we decided to start some monitoring and follow up on our post from last year. The ads probably haven't hit their peak yet, but we've already found a particularly interesting example that we wanted to share. Here's an ad that we found showing up on Bing:
Initially, we suspected that the ad would take you over to a toolbar download page or illegal streaming site populated with ads. We typically encounter sites promoting the "Television Fanatic" toolbar and the "Bring Me Sports" toolbar on these types of searches. We also find advertising-heavy sites that are hungry for pageviews.
But in this case, the ad actually takes you to a sparse landing page with some generic copy about watching the awards online. The page seems to be centered around two basic calls to action—a somewhat spammy text link and an image link that mimics a video play button. The landing page is actually just the site's homepage, so you can check it out here. If you'd rather not give their site any traffic, here's a screenshot of the landing page:
A Misleading Offer
It's worth taking a moment to inspect the image link a little more. First off, it's made to appear as though it's a video embed. (In fact, it actually looks quite a bit like the design that ESPN once used for its WatchESPN service back when it was called ESPN 360.) If you came to the site expecting an actual video stream, you'd probably go right for that link—much to your disappointment.
What's more misleading is that this ad started appearing on February 24th, a full 6 days before The Oscars. So, let's say a searcher types "Oscars" into Bing, unsure of when the show is actually going to air, and then clicks on LiveOscarsStream.com's ad. They then click on what looks like an embedded video stream—only to be taken elsewhere.
So, where does that click bring the visitor? If you test any of the page's links, you'll be taken to a signup page on the site. The signup page actually uses the HTML "frame" tag to load in a payment form hosted by the affiliate network. Instead of a video, you get asked for your credit card. That's not a great experience.
Is This Allowed?
There are two sides to this issue: A) Is this something the merchant allows? and B) Is this something that the search engines allow? Based on last year's analysis, the answer to the latter is almost certainly "No." So we'll focus on the answer to A.
What's the merchant's stance here? While the affiliate's tactics are unsavory, none of that matters if the merchant permits them. We decided to check into the merchant's policies and see what position they take. Here's the most relevant passage we found:
(f) You will not use the names, trademarks and/or logos of content providers, including but not limited to broadcast or cable television channels (e.g., ABC, CBS, FOX, TBS, AMC) or movie channels (e.g., HBO, SHOWTIME), or the name, titles, trademarks and/or logos of programs, including sporting events, teams, and their owners (e.g., NFL, MLB, NBA) (collectively, “Prohibited Terms”).
It seems that The Oscars would fit into the "programs" part of the passage. And although it's never good to see examples of affiliate non-compliance, the merchant's foresight is definitely a positive here. At least they're anticipating the ways that an affiliate could mislead customers.
Interestingly, after checking DomainTools to learn more about the affiliate's site, we learned that the site has only been around since last Friday. It was created on February 21st of this year, so it seems to have been made purely for the purpose of poaching traffic and manufacturing illegitimate commissions.
It wouldn't be surprising to see a set of similar sites pop up over the next few days. We'll make sure to continue monitoring the terms and update this post if we find any new ones engaging in these tactics.