Aspen Marketing -- Web Advertising
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(Navigation note:  To read the entire article on Aspen Marketing, start by clicking here, then follow a red link each time you encounter one.  This will take you through the entire article).

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 Aspen, CRC Health Group, or Bain Capital had anything to do with it.  Articles, such as the one at http://www.teenboardingschools.com/bootcamps.htm entitled "Boot Camps Don't Work" did not disclose that it was posted on the web site of a company that does not operate boot camps but does operate many programs considered by people to be competitors to boot camps.  We at FamilyLightsm agree with what the article says, but we are concerned about the value system of a business that would run this kind of self serving web site without disclosing their financial interest in the guidance offered."

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.

Aspen currently has dozens of micro websites and directories designed to direct traffic from search engines to their family of programs.   .  .  .   Unfortunately, this creates an unfair advantage for Aspen since most schools and programs do not have large marketing budgets that allow them to compete on the Web.  It's unfortunate that IECA, NATSAP and NATWC aren't able to join forces to put an end to this unfair strategy.

Here are but a few of the CRC Health Group/Aspen micro websites.

www.4-adhd.com
www.4troubledteens.com
www.about-teen-depression.com
www.about-underachieving-teens.com
www.adolescent-mood-disorders.com
www.adolescent-substance-abuse.com
www.aegprograms.com
www.alternativesummercamps.com
www.at-risk-youth.com
www.boardingschoolsforgirls.com
www.boardingschoolsinfo.com
www.boot-camps-info
www.byparents-forparents.com
www.choosehelp.com
www.drugrehabtreatment.com
www.equine-therapy-programs.com
www.militaryschoolalternatives.com
www.schoolsforboys.com
www.summercampsinfo.com
www.teen-alcohol-addiction.com
www.teenboardingschools.com
www.teen-drug-abuse.org
www.teen-drug-help.com
www.teen-help-directory.com
www.teenwildernessprograms.net
www.therapeuticboardingschool.com
www.wilderness-programs-info.com

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).

But 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 http://www.about-underachieving-teens.com/   As of January 24, 2010, there was no published identification of whose website this is that we could find. The website directs the readers to Copper Canyon School, an Aspen Program.  However, when we ran the name on http://www.whois.com/ this is the information returned: 

Registrant:
Aspen Education Group
17777 Center Court Dr
Suite 300
Cerritos, CA 90703
US

This also contains a link to the following website:  http://www.yourlittleprofessor.com/index.html   Again, in that website we could find no identified owner or connection between the ownership of this website and Aspen or CRC Health Group  or  Bain Capital  on the website itself. We find guidance to a number of Aspen programs, mainly summer camps.  But running the domain on http://www.whois.com/ (January 24, 2010), we find the following listed owner:

Registrant:
Aspen Education Group
17777 Center Court Dr
Suite 300
Cerritos, CA 90703
US

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. 

So Aspen/ CRC Health Group/ Bain Capital is still doing it!  The appearance is a neutral website.  There is no identification we could find in the text of the website that we could find that Aspen or CRC Health Group or  Bain Capital had anything to do with it.  But after a search, we found evidence that this domain, too, is registered to Aspen -- with no acknowledgement of any kind that we could find on the website itself that it is owned by Aspen or an affiliate of Aspen. 

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.

Documentation of Domain Ownership (red link -- next page if you want to see documentation)

Next Text on Aspen Marketing in Sequence -- Quid pro Quo (skipping documentation of Domain Ownership of website) 

Navigating the Aspen Marketing article

1.  Exploiting publicity about abuses in the field, attempting to project the image that Aspen Education is uniquely immune to these problems.  

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.  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.    (more) 

          2a. Documentation (red link)

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)

              3a. Exorbitant perks

              3b. Special Events

           3c. External Referral

           4c. Information for Referral

4. Misuse of outcome studies.

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)

5.  Referral from one Aspen program to another.

When a person is referred to an Aspen school or program, upon completion of that stay Aspen generally refers back to the referral source, a common practice in their business.  When a person arrives at an Aspen program  .  .  .  (more)

Additional Links:

Return to main article on Aspen Education

Blog entry on closure of Mt. Bachelor Academy

Official web site of Aspen Education

Official web site of CRC Health Group

Official web site of Bain Capital

Return to Major Providers Index

Return to Individual Schools and Programs Index

Woodbury Reports links to Aspen Education

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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