I’m currently reading a story in “The Atlantic” about Jesse Willms, a young entrepreneur who has made and lost millions—and he’s not even thirty years old. You’ve probably never heard of Jesse Willms, but if you are online and have seen an ad for car-history reports, weight-loss products, or other nutritional supplements, you’ve likely seen his work. Jess Willms is, quite frankly, everywhere, and that’s why he’s called “The Dark Lord of the Internet.”
Willms makes his money through what is known as “affiliate marketing.” His ads are designed to draw you in with a hook. Once you’ve signed up for a “free trial,” you’ll probably find it’s nearly impossible to unhook your credit card from Jesse’s bank accounts. According to the piece in “The Atlantic,” many people finally give up and cancel the card they used to sign up for the free trial.
As a writer, I’m fascinated by the brilliance of someone so young whose only concern seems to be how many dollars he can bring in. He seems to be a firm believer in the adage of “buyer beware,” but that’s exactly the problem. In this vast environment we call the Internet, which is often likened to the Wild West, the fastest gun survives, the rest either give the gunslinger a wide berth or become the next victim because the “fine print” is simply too hard to find.
We really could use a sheriff, but until Gary Cooper’s spirit figures out how to come back as an Internet geek, my suggestion is to walk away from those oh-so-tempting ads. Have you become the victim of these types of ads? What do you do when you see them?