jpeg-148x150Twitter filed a UDRP complaint last week seeking transfer of the domain name That domain presently resolves to a site that runs “promotions” or “contests” for gift cards and products like iPhones. The site tells users they have won something (or the chance to win something) and then asks them to click on the posted links to qualify to get their reward, only the user has to run through a gauntlet of questions, including providing personal information, and then purchase a certain amount of products/services in order to “qualify” for the “free” rewards.

Right now the site offers a free $1000 Walmart Card, a Visa Gift Card or an iPhone 5. I used the Google Chrome browser to access the site and the page tab at the top said “Congratulations! You Are Today’s New York Winner.” The user is then run through a series of questions and then asks the user to choose a preferred gift card (of which there were a “limited supply”) and then (depending on your choice) you get sent to a site that asks you for even more information. The site I landed on had the Walmart logo and gift card image emblazoned on it and asked me for my e-mail address. The fine print on the bottom of the page that I landed on noted that the site was an ad placed by a company called Promo-depot:

This is an Advertisement: Powered by Promo-depot, an independent rewards program that is not associated nor endorsed / sponsored by any of the above listed merchants or brands. The above brands and merchants are in no way liable for any alleged or actual claims related to this offer. The above listed trademarks and service marks are the marks of their respective owners. Promo-depot is solely responsible for Gift fulfillment. By continuing with this promotion you agree to receive SMS texts. Optional offers are clearly marked as optional.

*In order to receive the item(s) as offered, you must complete participation requirements which can include taking surveys, requesting information, and purchasing products. View our complete participation requirements for more detailed information. You must be over the age of 18 to participate in this promotion.

I put in a bit more information, navigated through a few more pages and was told that “Your Free Gift Card is Waiting”, but, that I needed to fill out even more information. I was 10 min. into the “survey” at this point and sufficiently frustrated without spending more time on trying to get my gift card (or iPhone, I forgot which one I was pursuing) or giving away any more personal information.

So who is running this operation? It is a little murky, though depending on which reward you choose you are sent off to sites that appear to be run by a few different web marketing companies. But hey, no harm no foul right? I mean, whoever owns the site made a mistake in using the domain for its activities, no big deal?

Well, for Twitter, it will likely get an arbitrator to transfer the domain to them after the Registrant defaults on the response and allows Twitter’s complaint to go unopposed.

What about the users who went through this? Well, if you put your information into the linked pages – whether you were looking for Twitter or got pulled into trying to get the free stuff being offered – this type of “promotional” activity leads to a tremendous distrust of online ads and the Internet in general. Why? Well, after putting in all your personal information (including email address and birthday) you may have received a bunch of spam e-mail offering more promotions and free stuff. If you kept going through and navigating through the maze of pages linked to the site you may have even started buying things and spending hard-earned money thinking that it would increase your chances of getting your gift card or iPhone.

Although the fine print on the promotion pages neatly lists the caveats, if you didn’t read it (or could not see it because it was below the fold) you would not know this. Maybe spending some money, even a couple hundred dollars, seemed like a good deal to get a $1000 gift card or iPhone – it all looks very legitimate and the use of the established names/logos on the sites lends an air of legitimacy to the promos.

Further, users are told early on that they are a “winner”, so retrieving your gift is just a matter of time and getting through some pages/questions – the accumulation of fine print as you go through the promo maze is not prominently displayed, at least in relation to the reward. However, in my experience I never could procure the elusive iPhone 5 that I was offered, if not promised.

Companies that are hiring marketers to promote their products online need to take a hard look at what they are supporting and the work that these marketers are doing on their behalf. The proliferation of these types of ads can wear down the good name of a brand and lead to a backlash from angry customers. In fact Target held the dubious distinction of having the website Scambook name a Target $1000 Gift Card scam or fake promotion the scam of the year for 2012.