The third largest political advertiser on Snapchat this year is not a political campaign, party, or interest group. It’s a mysterious marketing firm that sells “free” Trump products that legions of angry customers say are just a hook to get their credit card numbers and start mining money.
Albbiom Marketing company said it paid around $ 418,000 this year for Snapchat ads that have been viewed more than 435 million times, according to the platform’s political ad database. Only two Snapchat advertisers received more impressions: Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and anti-smoking group Truth.
Albbiom’s ads feature free Trump flags, t-shirts, hats, and other kitschy memorabilia. Customers only need to pay five dollars for shipping. Many reviews from angry online customers are unanimous on what happens next: People who provide their credit card numbers quietly sign up for a “subscription” that typically costs $ 50 or more per month, and the next one thing they do know, they are being billed for a “Service” they never knew they signed up for. Many customers report that they never even received the “free” merchandise they were promised, and some reported that while they may have canceled unwanted subscriptions, the companies involved refused to reimburse them. costs that were billed to them even when those costs were disputed.
The scam is potentially very lucrative, given the scale of Albbiom’s marketing campaign. And according to a study compiled by the Alethea group, a company that researches and fights online disinformation, as part of the electoral protection project – and in collaboration with the Global Disinformation Index, a British think tank – Snapchat ads d ‘Albbiom are just one front in a large network of political advertisers across multiple social media platforms. Alethea linked the effort to a network of related companies across the country with numerous websites offering equally questionable merchandising offers.
The scale of the operation is difficult to know. The Daily Beast was able to link some of the groups Althea uncovered to other businesses and websites with a similar branding designed to appeal to Trump voters and conservative Americans. But exactly who is behind the network and benefits from it remains a mystery.
The Albbiom Network is just one node in a constellation of for-profit political advertisers who sprang up during Trump’s time to try to monetize the intense grassroots enthusiasm – and the accompanying demand for memorabilia politicians – among the core of dedicated supporters of the president. As President Trump faces a difficult path to re-election next week, these legions of advertisers may be forced to rethink their marketing strategies at a time when Donald Trump is no longer President, but a voice of prominent in the American political ecosystem.
For now, however, Albbiom and other Trump-themed merchandising companies are taking center stage. And Albbiom’s research shows how this particular company used a network of generic-name websites to try to catch the eyes – and open the wallets – of Trump supporters.
Through websites such as patrioticamerican1776.com and weheartLEOs.com (the latter using the acronym for “law enforcement”), Albbiom and apparently affiliated marketing companies have increased the “membership” fees of customers who thought they were just paying to ship a single piece of “free” Trump memorabilia.
“This business is a SCAM!” reads a characteristic review on the Better Business Bureau’s website for USA Patriot Nation, one of the companies Alethea’s research has linked to Albbiom’s marketing campaign. “I have never signed up for this membership and have not received any merchandise. I took a survey to get a free t-shirt and since May I’m being billed $ 80 a month for nothing, ”the enraged customer said.
Identify people associated to Albbiom is not a simple task. Snapchat political ad revelations indicate that someone named Marud Khan is behind its advertising buys on the platform. But Alethea says he “hasn’t found any proof that Marud Khan is a real person.” The company’s address listed in Snapchat records is a UPS Store mailbox in Boca Raton, Florida. Company literature lists a different address: another UPS Store mailbox 3,000 miles away in Elk Grove, California.
The publicly available information on various websites affiliated with Albbiom and in the advertising disclosures of those sites on Facebook, reveals links to another company called Gold Sky Ventures LLC. Company records indicate Gold Sky Ventures is based in Nevada and run by a man named Amaad Khan. Khan did not answer questions about his business and Alethea’s research results.
There are other companies involved in the effort that are even more opaque. Alethea’s report identifies one called CoDarr Group, LLC, which appears to be incorporated in Montana. The Daily Beast called the number listed for this business on various merchandise marketing websites such as USA Patriot Nation and USA Patriot Mine. A customer service representative responded, but declined to speak to anyone other than an “account holder.” She identified her employer as the Great USA Store, another company that has received complaints from angry BBBs for similar marketing scams.
The political merchandising scam is just one consequence of a larger phenomenon of social media-activated ploys to monetize political enthusiasm. Social media advertisers have also used political appeals to attempt to solicit direct donations from unsuspecting Americans, who are often misled into believing that they are donating to a political candidate or dedicated group. to support one.
Facebook in particular has been breeding ground for unscrupulous political advertisers seeking to extract money from Americans donating or shopping online with their political opinions. Combine that with the documented use of the platform by crooks attempting to impersonate established clothing companies, and you have the kind of Trump memorabilia scams that Alethea highlights in his report.
The Daily Beast has covered similar networks of political product advertisers in the past. One such network, run by an Internet marketed in the Houston area, racked up millions in revenue before scaling back operations this year.
But the election years provide fertile ground for politically-themed cash grabbers. And Trump, with the cult of personality surrounding him, has been a boon to such endeavors. Even if he is defeated next week, that popular appeal will likely persist. And marketing opportunities will likely continue to abound.
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