Husband, father, and “Jeopardy” game show host Alex Trebek died on Nov. 8, 2020, following his battle with advanced pancreatic cancer.
Less than two weeks following his death, at least one advertising network had begun running ads with the headline: “Alex Trebek’s Net Worth Left His Family In Tears.” This was false.
The ads were sponsored by LifeExact, The Financial Mag, Travel Patriot, and perhaps others, and were routed through Zemanta, which is owned by Outbrain. Crunchbase defined Outbrain as “a content discovery platform providing publishers a service for recommended links to increase traffic and generate revenue.” Outbrain (via Zemanta) provided the technology that allowed the Trebek ads to appear, while LifeExact, The Financial Mag, and Travel Patriot hosted the landing pages. The landing pages featured an image slideshow, with one celebrity name and net worth figure per page. The slideshow story was headlined as: “52 Celebrities & Their Huge Net Worth – Chadwick Boseman’s Net Worth Left Us in Disbelief.”
The “net worth left family in tears” advertising lure has also been used by advertising networks exploiting the names of Kenny Rogers, Sean Connery, and Pat Sajak. However, Sajak is still alive, and as of this writing is on the first page of the “52 Celebrities” slideshow.
While the headline claimed the story was about 52 celebrities, including Chadwick Boseman, who died on Aug. 28, 2020, Boseman did not show up until after 140 clicks, on slide 140. Trebek appeared after 141 clicks, on slide 141. His page was the end of the slideshow. Trebek’s page did not appear to acknowledge his cancer or passing. The page, which claimed his net worth was $50 million, was likely created in the past, and may have been moved along with Boseman’s page to the end of the 141-page slideshow after their deaths.
The one-item-per-click slideshow model is known in the online advertising world as “arbitrage.” On the business and technology blog Margins, run by Ranjan Roy and Can Duruk, Roy defined arbitrage as “leveraging an inefficient set of systems to make a riskless profit, usually by buying and selling the same asset.” He also called it “the mythical free lunch that economics tells us does not exist.”
In arbitrage, the advertising network’s goal is to make more money on the ads displayed to readers who click through the slideshow than it costs to advertise the false “net worth left his family in tears” claim that lured them to it.
As the family grieved Trebek’s passing, on Nov. 11, his wife, Jean, shared a heartfelt message with a photograph from their wedding day. She posted to Instagram:
My family and I sincerely thank you all for your compassionate messages and generosity. Your expressions have truly touched our hearts. Thank you so very, very much.
Many Blessings to all,