A recent Ad-Age article on the explosive growth of advertising on Facebook makes note of an interesting fact: following big names like AT&T and Match.com, an unknown website called Make-my-baby.com was the third largest advertiser on Facebook.
When Matt Cutts, head of Google’s anti-webspam team, decided to dig a little deeper, he found that the site was something of a front. It lets users put funny glasses and hairstyles on pictures of babies, free of charge. Not exactly the kind of business that can afford to buy 1.75 billion ad impressions on Facebook.
But to use it, the application’s visitors have to download a plugin. When users install the plugin, it automatically switches their browser’s default search engine to Microsoft’s Bing. That’s where the money comes from: The company behind Make-My-Baby, Zugo, gets a cut of the search revenue whenever you click on an ad through Bing.
Bing has been steadily gaining market share in search, and Facebook’s financials have been booming. Now it turns out the two are tied together through the sleazy grey market of advertising arbitrage.
As Search Blog’s John Battelle points out, this kind of bait-and-switch used to be commonplace on Google. Now, with Facebook emerging as the fastest growing ad space, activity of this kind if sure to blossom on the social network as well. The surprise is that Microsoft is in on the ruse.
bpopper at observer dot com | @benpopper