I interviewed Dan Nessel, Marketing and Research director for PowerSupplements.com, on the special content and marketing opportunity with producing and promoting video online to serve as a consumer advocate and watchdog for one's own industry.
Marketing scams and how to expose them with online video
For some background, I first came across Dan when I was doing research for a presentation I was to give at Search Engine Strategies Chicago, on the panel: "The Oprah Winfrey Litigation: What Affiliate Marketers Must Know." The topic was about a major lawsuit by Oprah Winfrey's company suing a large number of affiliate marketers and their merchant clients for using Oprah (and her doctor's) image and trademarks without receiving any permission. My presentation was to an audience largely of affiliate marketer and affiliate network managers, so I was to focus on the examples of how online video was being used by the defendant affiliate marketers that had resulted in legal action.
While doing my research online, I came across a very interesting blog site, "Supplement Secrets Exposed," which had already been covering the Oprah Winfrey litigation against affiliate marketers for quite some time. And on top of that, the site also featured a good number of videos warning and educating consumers on how to watch out for these affiliate marketing and merchant scams. That's when I realized this company was utilizing a great content and marketing opportunity that was ideal for video – playing the role of consumer advocate and watchdog. While acknowledging that their own industry was rife with scams (similar to the early days and current days of the SEO industry), they created an informative resource for customers that would also show up prominently in search results, including their video content.
On both the e-commerce site of PowerSupplements.com and on their consumer watchdog blog site Supplement Secrets Exposed, and on their YouTube channel, you can watch the videos that offer the clearest proof that Oprah never actually endorsed any merchant and their product, and any company claiming she had was clearly operating a scam.
Supplement Secrets Exposed (with online video)
The following is my interview with Dan Nessel of PowerSupplements.com and Supplement Secrets Exposed.
Grant: When and how did the blog, SupplementSecretsExposed.com, get started?
Dan: We started the blog in June 2009. We had been doing Power Supplements since 1999. What we noticed is that we were getting lot of questions about the supplements industry: Legitimate supplements, how do you find what works? All of these various marketing tactics that were out there that were confusing people, and we felt like there was a real need to expose them. So we started the blog in a much less commercial fashion. There's very little selling that goes on the blog. We just try to put truthful information out there and to support both new and current consumers. We can point them to the blog, and when we get that call from someone that says, "what's the deal, I saw that Oprah endorsed "Brand X" of acai berry, and we can say no, you might want to read our blog post here.
What are some of the things that the blog has exposed?
I think the biggest overall thing has been the exaggerated health claims, and the exaggerated marketing claims. What marketers in this industry tend to do is: they take something that might have some degree of science to it. They might an initial study that shows some degree of weight loss for something; and they completely blow it up, exaggerate it, and put someone's picture next to it (like Oprah's!). They take something that has a kernel of truth, but turn it into something that is completely unfounded, exaggerated, or untrue. So what we've been trying to do with the blog, and I think what's been working with it is, there have really been some good companies involved in making nutritional supplements.
Unfortunately, there are also some companies who really don't care about the health of consumers, and are trying to just make money on it. Now we are a for-profit business; we try to make money off of it, but we try to find a right way to do it. What the blog has allowed us to do is just expose that. So for example, issues about exaggerated claims of weight loss – that's been a big one that we've exposed. Another issue is about the quality of supplements – how they're made, different tricks in terms of labeling – proprietary ingredients or different mixes. So we've been able to make consumers more aware of when they're comparing various supplements – what to look for on the label, what to look for on the marketing material – red flags that might be a problem with it. And we also show positives, such as organic or different ways of processing. There have been a number of smaller issues, but the larger ones have been exposing health claims that are untrue, and a lot of the marketing claims that have been exaggerated.
On your blog you also feature videos that are like being a "consumer watchdog" for what you describe. How did you get started doing these videos?
A lot of the things that come out of the videos and the blog are what we hear directly from our consumers – whether they're calling us, emails... What we found is that as much as we were trying to explain things on the blog – through screenshots or articles – people do better seeing it. That's especially important in our industry, because there's a lack of trust. If one web site says that Oprah says one thing, while another website says that Oprah said another thing – we found the best way to do it was to create a video where we could go and say (and show) this: here we are going to go to Oprah.com, let's see what she said. Or, let's go to the FDA, and let's see what their POV is on this health claim. So what the video allows us to do is really take people directly to the source, so they can see that we're not misreading it or misquoting it, and they can see we're giving accurate information in the video – featuring stuff directly from the source.
It's also done in an easy-to-follow, concise way that we can put together quickly [with video screen capture software and audio narration]. In 2-3 minutes, the consumers get a very good overview of what's been said, who's said it, etc. And, we can also contrast that by showing some companies that we don't think are doing the right thing. So in the video we can contrast what the companies say that Oprah said, with what Oprah actually said, and show that company isn't portraying things in an honest way. Again, the videos are very soft-sell. At the end of the videos, we do show that we carry our own supplements as an option.
But the point of the videos is primarily to educate and build relationships with the consumers. What we found with is that: people will stay with the blog for a while. They might start doing some searches on the outside for other products, gather their own information – then they sign up for our RSS feed. And then, we have people who come back and say that they like what they've read and seen from us, and then they ask us specific questions about resveratrol that sounds interesting. It is THEN that they trust us, and they might try something that we're recommending.
What's your online marketing strategy with these videos?
There are still a lot of people out there searching on Oprah, acai and resveratrol, and things like that. We've tried to do some of these videos so that if you go into YouTube (youtube.com/susanly44) or find them in search results. You might come across our videos – which will tell you the truth, and point some good information on what acai can do and the truth about it – then here's our website.
What's the most popular video you have?
The most popular video we have on YouTube is "How to buy an acai supplement without getting burned." We've received a lot of positive feedback on it, and its nice. We see people writing in that they almost fell for a deceptive advertisement and were about to buy, and thank us. Its really sad that there are many people who think that they're getting something for free, and end up getting billed $99 every month, because they don't know how to cancel it! So looking at those videos of ours can really help some people out.
With your videos that you show, do you find it better to not call your competitors out by name – unless its done in a way that they're already being mentioned in the news? Do you ever worry about your competitors deciding to sue you for any statements?
Sure, we do. What we tend to do is call them out by name when an attorney general or a company's legal agency, like Harpo studios (laughs) has done it first. We will post it on our blog when an attorney general calls out a company by name and is suing, and is filing a class-action lawsuit – we will certainly report on that. Our distinction on that is we're reporting on the news, so we're not making some false claim, like slander or libel. We're just reporting on what a legal agency has already done. That's the distinction that we make, plus we also don't want to give any free publicity to any of these scammers. So we don't tend to mention companies by name, until they've been mentioned in a lawsuit.
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