Aspen Marketing -- Web Advertising
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A further example of where we would like to see improvement at Aspen/ CRC Health Group involves their web advertising. We saw temporary improvement about the time we previously called public attention to this, but it appears the problem is back, or maybe it never left and we just missed it.
In March of 2008 we published on our main page about Aspen Marketing, "An example of aggressive marketing that applies to individuals searching on the Internet (as opposed to potential referral sources) is http://www.teenboardingschools.com/ ." The web page http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/results.jsp?domain=teenboardingschools.com checked on March 6, 2008, indicated that http://www.teenboardingschools.com/ uses a domain owned by "Aspen Education Group, 17777 Center Court Drive, Suite 300,Cerritos, CA 90703, US." (Remember, "Aspen" is a brand name of programs of the Healthy Living Division of CRC Health Group; at the time it may have been an identifiable administrative division or subsidiary)
At that time this website gave the appearance of being a neutral search website for parents seeking resources on the web. On March 6, 2008, there was no acknowledgement that we could find after a diligent search that indicated an affiliation with Aspen or CRC Health Group or parent company Bain Capital. This appeared to be prime example of a company promoting itself by setting up what appeared to be a neutral guide that channeled everything to their own programs. This practice that is clearly contrary to our guidelines and that we think undermines the credibility of any organization engaging in such a practice.
At that time, we called this to the attention of other IECA member consultants using the IECA member listerv. On March 15, 2008, we looked at this website again, and noted that the CRC Health Group logo had suddenly appeared on the web site, but only on the home page, so far as we could find at that time. We then added the following notation on our Aspen Marketing main page:
"We have edited this page on March 15, 2008, as we note that the CRC Health Group logo was then added to this website, acknowledging who is behind it (and no longer totally concealing the conflict of interest). We also believe that if CRC Health Group/Aspen really wanted people to know that this website is a marketing arm of the Aspen programs, it would put the Aspen and CRC Health Group logos at the top and bottom of every page and turn it into a link to the the web sites of those companies.
Until that correction was
made, that website appeared to direct users only to Aspen
facilities while concealing that
As of December 27, 2008, that website had been entirely revised. Every page we checked has the CRC Health Group Logo prominently displayed. While we don't have a record of the previous wording of the website (if there is a change) we note that where this website assesses boot camps (Aspen/CRC Health Group does not operate boot camps but competes with them) it seems to do so in a fair minded and research based manner -- something we don't recall from the same article as it originally appeared (although that might just be a case of bad memory on our part).
While we were in the 2009-2010 process of updating this page, we received the following email from a person we cannot identify:
Hello Mr. Croke,
While visiting your website, I read the information on Aspen Education Group and thought I might share some additional information with you.
Here are but a few of the CRC Health Group/Aspen micro websites.
We checked out several of these. Of those we checked out, some identified showed the “CRC Health Group” logo. In all cases that we checked, we were able to trace the ownership of the domain to Aspen or CRC Health Group. All those we checked directed readers to one or more Aspen owned programs, either directly or indirectly.
However, none (of those we checked on the above list) made a what we believed is transparent connection on the site itself between an identified owner of one of these websites and the schools or programs being recommended. In most cases the CRC Health Group logo appeared but without any indication of an ownership connection between CRC Health Group and the schools or programs being recommended.
As these pages are presented, a parent or even a professional who did not have a substantial experience with specialty schools and treatment centers, might reasonably understand CRC Health Group to be a neutral health advocacy group. As the logo appears, we believe that would be a reasonable assumption for a person without prior background.
We doubt that many parents searching the web would have any idea that CRC Health Group is group with a financial interest in the facilities recommended. Very clever. Some would say "Too clever by half." CRC Health Group can claim (in many cases) that they have acknowledged who owns the website, but they have not risked having many people realize that this is simply an advertisement by the owner of the program recommended and not a neutral recommendation.
We believe that to be highly manipulative and not something for Aspen or CRC Health to be proud of and not something we want to see from “. . . the leading provider of education programs for struggling or underachieving young people . . .” (Wording from the Aspen Education Groups website).
it does not end there. The
fourth website we looked at from the list provided by our reader was “about-underachieving-teens.com.” as shown on the list from the reader or
As of January 24, 2010, there was no published identification of
whose website this is that we could find. The website directs the
This also contains a link to the following website:
Again, in that website we could find no identified owner or
connection between the ownership of this website and Aspen or
CRC Health Group
on the website itself. We find
guidance to a number of
Spot-checking on April 6, 2010, we noticed that there is currently a note that the website http://www.about-underachieving-teens.com/ is sponsored by Aspen. We did not see that ten weeks before. Note that during that particular ten weeks, concern about that website was visible on this page. Maybe that is responsible for the change. We have noticed that every week, usually every Tuesday, our website gets one hit from Cupertino CA, where the executive offices of Aspen/CRC Health Group are located. Perhaps they fix these when they are "outed."
However we randomly moved to another site on the list, www.boardingschoolsforgirls.com, where we could find no identification of any kind that this was affiliated with Aspen/CRC Health Group /Bain Capital. The actualy ownership of this web domain was more deeply hidden than some others. Normally we find the owner of a web domain through the website http://www.whois.com/. This time that website listed an computer service company. We needed to dig a little to find it. But we did. Same name. Same address.
For the specific, detailed information that came up from our search, follow the Red Link. To skip the documentation and move to the next topic under Aspen Marketing, specifically “Quid pro Quo Marketing,” click on this sentence.
Navigating the Aspen Marketing article
Too often we hear of clinicians advising parents that sending their child to a therapeutic program away from home is only a good idea if it is an Aspen program. Clinicians and other referring professionals who give that advice are likely falling victim to . . . (more)
2. Web Advertising.
further example of where we would like to see improvement at Aspen/
CRC Health Group involves their
web advertising. We saw temporary
improvement about the time we previously called public attention to
this, but it appears the problem is back, or maybe it never left and we
just missed it. (more)
3. Quid pro quo marketing. Quid pro quo marketing is providing some incentive, often an item of value in exchange for business. It is not like the “cents off” coupon from your neighborhood grocery store; it is more like paying someone who appears to be a neutral source to tell you that is the best grocery store in town. We are not accusing Aspen or CRC Health Group of actual payoffs or referral fees to educational consultants. We will let you decide whether or not what we describe crosses any troubling lines. (more)
Aspen, to its great credit, commissioned an extensive outcome study blanketing its schools, excluding its wilderness programs. The problem arises when the study is used to convince others of the effectiveness of one school or treatment center, ignoring the fact that the results of many schools have been lumped together. (more)
a person is referred to an Aspen school or program, upon completion of
Feedback is invited. We will publish selected feedback. Email FamilyLightResponse@yahoo.com
Disclaimer: No program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation. When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree. When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source. We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance. It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines. Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.
Last revised April 12, 2010
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