Is this "Black Hat" or Not? I need advice...

by 7 comments
Ok, one time I read a free 'black hat' (I think that is the right term) tactic that really offended my moral sensibilities. Long story short a make-believe Golden Retriever was involved.

However, I just came across something else that seems like a very good way to make money but I wanted to know if it is 'black hat' or just a good business strategy. I am not naming names, but I will say I came across this via email ad and was intrigued as usually I don't click on these ads.

This product was advertised as a free package with a meager shipping and handling fee. On the main page after opting in with basic info you come to a 'landing page' so to speak that is very 'sticky' it contains a ticking clock, testimonials, etc. At the bottom of the page is Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy links. They are there, but not necessarily jumping out at you screaming 'click and read me'

When you do read the terms and conditions, you find out you are agreeing to join a membership site with a substantial monthly fee (charged of course to the same card you paid for shipping and handling for your free product) unless you cancel by phone or writing at least seven days prior to the next billing date.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'll bet more than a few people don't read the Terms and Conditions, end up with a charge on their statement that they are shocked at and try to dispute, but can't, because the Terms and Conditions they neglected to read stated everything quite clearly.

The marketer gets the membership fee and the disgruntled buyer learns a lesson about reading Terms and Conditions. Of course, I imagine some of the customers do read the T&C and pay the membership fee voluntarily every month as well.

I guess what I mean to say is that it is not evident UNLESS you read the terms and conditions that you are subscribing to something and will be charged in the future.

So, is that unethical or not? On one hand the marketer in me says heck no, the customer should always read the T&C. Then again...the customer in me says why wasn't it more clear on the main page that I was subscribing to something? What do you all think?

#internet marketing #advice #black hat
  • Profile picture of the author JayXtreme
    What you talk of is called

    Forced Continuity

    It's not black hat... The ethics of it have been played out right here in the forum on more than one occasion.. and I think it is fair to say that each case has it's own issues... there is no one size fits all answer to whether this is ethical or not


  • Profile picture of the author grumpyjacksa
    if you offer something for free, and con someone into spending, that person might just blow his/her mouth off in the right places, and damage your credibility in the long run....
    • Profile picture of the author ragnartm
      Originally Posted by grumpyjacksa View Post

      if you offer something for free, and con someone into spending, that person might just blow his/her mouth off in the right places, and damage your credibility in the long run....
      I would say you're also damaging your credibility simply by doing that, I for one would probably not buy if I did noticed it and I know several others that would have been just as much if not more skeptical, and if I didn't I would post a warning post on my blog maybe rant in a few forums etc.. There are so many products and services out there with close to identical ToS that some people do not bother to read them, IMO it can be labeled as an "attempted scam" because they are trying to take advantage of people that don't read the ToS and take more of their money without their consent.

      If they really thought the product was worth the membership fees they would put it in their sales letter.
      Just a thought,
  • Profile picture of the author Chris Lockwood
    Forced continuity just means the continuity is not optional. Almost every membership site with recurring billing falls into that category, as do most hosting plans, cell phone contracts, etc.

    The problem here is not disclosing it on the sales letter and/or order page- in other words what can be called hidden forced continuity.

    The problem is the "hidden", not the "forced", even though the word "forced" sounds like something bad, here it just means "not optional."

    I also question why they need 7 days notice to cancel it. How long does it take to go into a billing system and mark something as canceled?
  • Profile picture of the author Darth Executor
    It's not blackhat since you're not actually breaking any rules. It's gray hat. Really dark gray hat. Is it unethical? Absolutely. I think of myself as "gray hat" and I wouldn't do it.
  • Profile picture of the author R Hagel
    As has been said, it's not considered blackhat -- that's why (as mentioned) businesses like cell phone companies, hosting, newspaper subscriptions and so on use it.

    You've probably seen other big companies use it, too -- Time Life books is a good example. "Fruit of the Month" or "book or the month" clubs are good examples.

    It CAN work to the customer's advantage. For example, I just have my host bill me every month, and in exchange I get uninterrupted service. That's better than me trying to remember to pay every month and having the chance of losing service if I'm traveling or something.

    Bottom line -- it all depends on how you use it. Be upfront about it and make it a benefit to the customer, and you probably have a good business model. But bury the terms and try to hide the forced continuity -- perhaps hoping you can "sucker" a few people into buying something they wouldn't normally purchase -- and your customers could rise up like an angry mob.

  • Profile picture of the author MsSpider
    Thanks everyone for your input. The product described in the initial post is not my own, nor had I ever heard of this forced or hidden continuity before I stumbled across it (and almost fell for it) today. It doesn't sound like something I would feel right doing, but I bet those that do snag quite a few "accidental" membership payments.

    It boggles my mind that there are so many marketing techniques they are broken up into white hat, gray hat and black hat. Amazing, I have so much to learn...I imagine just by browsing these boards I could learn a lot!

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