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Accusations of unfair play: Utah center attacks bait-and-switch marketing

November 3, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Online searches to identify an addiction treatment center for oneself or a loved one have presented dangers ever since the Internet became a competitive landscape for facilities. A 2013 Addiction Professional series on organizational ethics in the treatment industry cited Internet marketing scams among the most common unethical practices that fuel calls for ethics reform.

Yet the widespread practice of luring unsuspecting consumers to one facility's website or call center by using the name of an altogether different facility or location has met with relatively little public resistance among treatment leaders—at least compared with other questionable practices such as deceptive insurance claims or paying bounties for referrals. That may be changing, however.

Twice learning in recent months that his facility's name was being used to divert consumers to information about others' nationally prominent treatment chains, Cirque Lodge director Gary Fisher decided he had had enough. Last week he shared his frustration via e-mail with a number of his peers, including leaders at the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) who have debated how aggressively they should work to enforce the association's code of ethics for member treatment centers.

Using the subject line “Same scam” (this summer he had encountered a similar issue that accrued to the benefit of Elements Behavioral Health), Fisher (himself a NAATP board member) wrote that searching for “Cirque Lodge” on Google was resulting in a top entry that when clicked advertised an 800 number, which when dialed connected the caller to American Addiction Centers (AAC), not Cirque Lodge.

“When our person [who placed the call] said he thought they were calling Cirque Lodge, they said, 'No, this is American Addiction Centers, we are much better than Cirque Lodge,'” Fisher wrote in the Oct. 28 e-mail.

AAC, a much-watched organization that last month issued an initial public offering and is reportedly prepared to grow into a billion-dollar brand in the industry, was included on the recipient list for Fisher's e-mail. Fisher directed this comment among his words toward the organization: “Capitalizing on someone else's brand is wrong. I don't think there is any debate about this.”

AAC confirmed last week that it has terminated its relationship with the marketing vendor that it says was responsible for the offending campaign. “We immediately canceled the contract,” says Michael Cartwright, CEO of AAC.

Yet Fisher remains concerned that some of the biggest names in addiction treatment are placing at least some of their Internet marketing efforts in the hands of entities whose tactics should be well-known to all by now, he believes.

“They all want to say they have nothing to do with it,” he says of his peers in treatment administration. “But we all know how these companies harvest beds—there is always some kind of sleight of hand, some bait and switch.”

Widespread practice

Fisher wrote in his e-mail to colleagues, “I know you are connected to others, and would believe if it is happening to little Cirque Lodge that it is probably happening to all of you.” This followed the second time since the summer that Cirque Lodge became aware of a marketing effort diverting its potential customers. Fisher said that in the first instance, searches for treatment in Sundance, Utah (home of Cirque Lodge) were resulting in a top listing for The Recovery Place, an Elements Behavioral Health facility in Florida.

Fisher said that issue was traced to the marketing consultant Recovery Brands, which operates facility directory sites such as Rehabs.com. He said Cirque Lodge contacted Recovery Brands' co-founder, Abhilash Patel, who replied that he would fix the problem. But after several weeks had passed with no action taken, Fisher said he went directly to Elements CEO David Sack, M.D., and the problem was ultimately resolved.

More recently, a Google search for Cirque Lodge was generating a highly placed “rehab-review.us” entry that advertised a phone number that would lead callers to a representative for American Addiction Centers. This time Fisher says he decided to respond more quickly, not only contacting AAC but also informing Google of the problem, and the listing was quickly removed. Recovery Brands was not the vendor working on behalf of AAC.

Elements' Sack says in a statement released to Addiction Professional: “Elements, consistent with its fellow NAATP members, is committed to operating with the utmost integrity.” He adds that the NAATP ethics code prohibits members' advertising from including false or deceptive representations as defined under federal law.

“I am confident that any website owned by Elements is operated, in both form and execution, in a manner that provides the customer seeking treatment information a valuable resource to make that very important decision about his/her treatment needs,” says Sack.

Yet recent criticism has pointed to actions that are taken on behalf of treatment organizations by outside contractors. The national newsletter Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly reported this month that Elements (along with Recovery Brands) has been sued in federal court by New Jersey-based Seabrook House for trademark infringement and unfair competition. Seabrook is seeking damages in excess of any profits the two defendants may have earned from allegedly using the Seabrook name online to steer business to Elements facilities.

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This is a great piece. I am glad you reached out to someone within the marketing community for comment. I did just do a Google search for "Sundown M Ranch" and they own the top 5, the problem is fixed.

Having worked in online marketing for some time, and the last 3 years exclusively with treatment centers, I have watched the competition increase for local, real, patients. As these larger investment firms see the profitability of owning a treatment center, they are pouring money into marketing, because they know the little guy can't compete.

That is why we created the Drug Rehab Agency. We only work with local treatment centers, and have an intake process that ensures we are dealing with a company that is helping people, not just collecting a check.

However, I will say that if you are in Arizona, and search for drug rehab, you will get national firms in FL or CA. This is simply good marketing practice. I do not, however, condone the use of a brand name through organic SEO. But, if you are being out ranked for your own brand name, it may be time to speak with a marketing company that understands the industry.

Great write up, and thank you. I will be sharing this.

Best,
Marcus Hansen
Founder - The Drug Rehab Agency

As members of NAATP and a leading online publisher in the addiction treatment industry, we are absolutely committed to ethical and transparent digital marketing. To clarify, we were not involved in any way with the problem that arose last week. We have *never* bid on trademarked names in paid search, which we understand was the major issue at hand last week. After investigating the issue for ourselves, we suggested to Gary Fisher that notifying Google's paid search team should bring about swift action so that his brand was no longer being targeted by unscrupulous marketers.

Most importantly, we too want to put an end to unethical “bait and switch” marketing as much as anyone else. Those who are purposefully misleading people are not helping our industry. Instead, we choose to publish important content (often written by treatment professionals) and deliver a rich, approachable customer experience where advertisements are clearly marked – similar to the manner in which Google and other major portals or publishers label their ads.

While we incorporate national advertisers throughout the site, (just as Google allows advertisers to bid on any keyword or any location), we also give facilities with standard (free) listings substantial tools to create robust profiles to promote their facilities. Consumers deserve better resources and tools along with unbiased and complete information – we will continue to innovate with resources for those seeking treatment and deliver those resources with integrity and pride. The visitor success stories we receive via email and phone on a regular basis are a testament to the fact that we are making a positive difference.

We should be working together to bring better standards for the industry. Hopefully we can have a productive, multi-party dialogue about how to build a better, ethical ecosystem. Ultimately, cooperation should push us toward the real goal: helping more people access the treatment they need.

Abhilash Patel
Co-Founder, Recovery Brands

In an industry that, essentially sells "hope" to consumers who are desperate for it, and who often times will spend whatever necessary in order to get it, the fine line separating integrity from deceit is often blurred. Many treatment centers practice variations of funneling and bait and switch techniques, and the revenue it generates more than justifies its ongoing practice. This an an extraordinarily competitive industry which, many believe is overpopulated and thus promotes more aggressive marketing approaches. Couple that with recent changes in search algorithms that promote a more level playing field, and it's no wonder such practices continue.

Maybe I'm a pessimist, or a realist, or possibly a combination of the two, but I don't see things changing for the better in this regard. As one method falters two new ones will emerge. If anything we'll see greater discretion in how its conducted, but as long as the revenue justifies the process, and the cost-benefit ratio of risk vs. reward remains top heavy, these shady practices will continue...

Great article though!

Ron Prosky
ATRI

Pretty simple concept. These are bad people stealing search results from other centers.

Is it just me, or did anyone else notice that Rehabs.com, which is not generously referenced in this article, is a prime advertiser on this website? Perhaps AddictionPro should practice what they preach.

My name is Anna and I have been targeted as traffic for treatment centers my entire life. A very real known external influence-definitely synthetic- that has the ability to get someone to crave, alter their sensations and perceptions does exists, and I was forced in treatment several times where it did nothing for me, except the targeting of me stopped.
The rehab scam works like this: with the digital age, we have new weaponry able to alter anyone's reality. For me, it was noticeable at 18 that I began randomly craving cocaine, though I had never done it before. After being forced into treatment after treatment and followed around my whole life, this feature is able to look for every single opportunity to make you look irresponsible. For me personally, I endured smear campaigns, improper medication prescription, unnecessary stints in rehab for extended amounts of time, and unless I am in a top notch lockdown treatment center that costs tons of money, I walk around being targeted by the ELF waves. Not only are they a hazard to my health, they are of military status, and people get paid on the side to do this for research purposes, or to boost local economies as we undergo urbanization. All of thenPsyOps operations take advantage of hard working people like me. They harp on your love life, your education, your family, your friends like predators. They can make you have car crashes, set you up for DUIs, mess up your energy where you are always late and losing work and jobs. The consequences for doing anything outside of what is a strict military like routine is ridiculous. Personally when I returned home from California, I noticed my home being broken into, my devices all hacked, my identity stolen, and I noticed that they have been using all of the ills of everyone in my family and creating discord and chaos for me. This weapon can literally alter ones perception of reality, and can spontaneously increase fear and sleep. Once you start taking prescriptions, you get even more out of whack, and it continues until you start hearing voices that say how you need to return to rehab. It has happened several times to me. Just because someone takes. Prescription does not mean they are an addict. The most violating feature, however, of this, is the manipulation of love and the soul. The weapon is able to alter other's language through Neuro linguistic programming, where I have even laughed at times at some of the language that childhood friends whom I have known my entire life say inappropriate things. In my particular case, this synthetic addiction is nothing more than criminals and gangs working for the local government to create domestic violence and leave someone thinking they require prescriptions and expensive treatment.
The truth is, I don't need either. I need these criminals to stop. And probably some good legal representation. Rehabs are crooks, and they charge you all of this money to make you think you need it. Personally, after what they did to me, I would like to remove all rehabs from this planet so that these criminals cannot continue to take advantage of people who are in a literal
War with high tech gear that we didn't know about.
Having been to so many treatments, it took me about 10 years to figure out how the gig works. 12 step meetings are a process of droning- it is corrupt all over the entire world. It has made me hurt and do crazy things, and then at the end they tell
You they want to alter
Your diagnosis, hoping you do something crazy or make some big gesture of change. Don't do anything. For anyone out there who deals with cravings, what you are really undergoing is fake, local marketers who not only use words, but now sensations and impulses, to create synthetic problems.
These corrupt people should be in prison. I pray for the day that they stop doing this to me. It has cost me medical school, my son, dreams, careers, cars, marriage, family, etc. All for the sake of draining my family of money under the guise of 'saving my life.' Which I will forever be grateful to my father for every day that he spent giving me treatment. Now, I'd like to find the people who spend their time getting innocent hooked on drugs to take everything from their families, among other things, and then will incarcerate you if you speak out. The last thing I'm going to do is not talk about it.

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