I get contacted by advertising agencies fairly regularly. Most of them are similar in their offering, and most of them perform equally badly. I suppose if they performed well they probably wouldn’t be contacting me as they’d already have publishers queueing up to display their ads.
The latest one to join the batch is IronSource which differs from the crowd by offering installer advertising based on InstallerCore. As customary for these types I declined since I’ve never seen an installer based advertising solution that wasn’t basically a scam and based on tricking users into installing the offers. IronSource was persistent, though, and told me how much money a competitor of mine was making, (thanks!) which was indeed a large amount of money.
Furthermore they assured me they were “one of Google’s biggest partners working directly with their compliance team which means we have to follow their strict guidelines.”
Figuring it couldn’t possibly hurt to check it out (this is called foreshadowing) I went to my competitor and downloaded the installer. What I experienced is best described in images, anonymized to protect the innocents who just want to make a lot of money.
The first screen presented was honestly fairly standard and as expected. It was a branded installer that told me I was using software from the site I expected to be downloading from. This was a bonus for me as I could then use my brand value to have the user trust the installer instead of immediately assume it was dodgy.
The only unfortunate thing was that I couldn’t change the download location of the file, my only option was to click “Next”.
After clicking next I reached step 2 of 3 and was presented with the expected offer screen. This screen had me concerned as it failed the mum test. At this point, would my mum be installing software she didn’t want and wasn’t aware she was installing? Yes she would. She’d click accept to download the file that the branded installer was promising in the previous screen.
The right button here is the “Decline” button. Which is positioned on the left and using a muted colour. Clearly designed so that it has the look and feel of a “back” button which isn’t going to get the user their expected file.
Clicking decline I was then taken to the next offer in step 2 of 4 which was pret- wait what? Step 2 of 4? Suddenly there’s another step and I’m still on step 2? Disregarding the fact that I barely noticed the text changing this now has me seriously confused. As a mother of 2 I would be seriously concerned and calling my oldest tech-savy son, which would annoy him terribly and probably make him write a negative blog post about my brand.
Clicking decline I was then taken to step 3 of 4 which was almost entirely identical again, only another program with slightly different text.
Clicking decline once more I was taken to a screen telling me my file was being downloaded. Once finished it opened an explorer window of my temporary files directory – which didn’t actually contain the downloaded file. In fact, I couldn’t find the file anywhere on my PC.
Thinking something must have gone wrong I decided to go through the process again to see if this time around I’d get the file I was promised. Not only did I not get the file this time either, but I also ran into this offer which had a pre-checked check box and a single accept button. In the email correspondence they had showed me a similar offer which had both a huge “Sponsored Offer” non-clickable button up top and the check box was not checked by default.
So not only are they tricking users, they’re also trying to trick their publishers.
Figuring I had seen more than enough it was time to just give up on this installer thing. Obviously this is shady and would significantly damage my brand value and just be a downright shitty thing to do the users who trust my brand.
Yo dawg, we heard you like confirmation boxes, so we put a confirmation box in your confirmation box so that you can confirm while you confirm because you sure as hell aren’t quitting our installer easily.
What happens if you click “Accept & Install” here is anyone’s guess. My guess is you get all the offers you didn’t even agree to installed. I personally opted for the “Just Leave” option and somehow they STILL managed to install PC Optimizer Pro, which found several issues with my PC that I could fix for only $34 USD – or $17 USD if I used the 50% discount code I got when I uninstalled it. Hopefully it doesn’t reinstall itself like it’s sibling malware program, I guess I will find out when I reboot.
So at the end of the day I didn’t learn much new, installer based advertising is still based on deceiving your users and should be illegal. If they truly are one of Googles biggest partners working closely with their compliance team then Google needs to fire their compliance team or revise their “strict” guidelines.
What I did learn is that I need to start poaching users from my competitor, though, there must be a lot of frustrated people looking for a better alternative. I wonder how expensive it would be to have my ad appear in my competitors installer.