(Yet) Another Variation on the “Dog & Pony Show” Theme

Courtesy of Poocheo

This is a topic I’ve written (and spoken) about for many years.   It might be time for me to update a 2014 article of mine entitled Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment about the many ways in which education companies cheat their partners, non-partners, and clients.  The list just keeps getting longer and longer.  Sigh.  

OK, here’s how it works.  Company ABC organizes an education fair.  In order to ensure that all of the colleagues in attendance are “shown the love” and to guarantee better photo-ops (think quantity over quality), attendees receive a GIFT, if they speak to ALL of the representatives. 

Go to the tables, ask a perfunctory question or two, get your stamp, and repeat – until you’re finished.  Then go collect your GIFT.  I sure hope it’s a good one for all of that effort.  Jump through the hoops and get the reward.  You earned it!  (Don’t forget to pick up a few pens, pennants, water bottles, and whatever else you can get your greedy little hands on along the way.)  Good job.  That’s a wrap. Now find another fair that does the exact same, stupid thing, and let another fun begin – again.  

smoke and mirrorsThe only problem with this approach is that fair attendees who do this really don’t care (I’m writing for a G-rated audience here…) about asking meaningful questions or picking up promotional materials of interest to them.  In fact, it’s safe to say that most probably don’t intend to study abroad.  They just want the stamps, the way your dog, cat or whatever wants its treats, which lead to the gold, or whatever, at the end of the rainbow.  What do colleagues whose institutions pay large sums of money to travel overseas and recruit students get?  Wasted time and the empty feeling of being played.   

This is on par with 1) paying students who “bring a friend” a finder’s fee of sorts; 2) paying student volunteers a per head fee for every “warm body” they bring with them; 3) busing in unqualified students; and 4) hiring “faux students” through a service to boost attendance.  (I described these in this 15 January 2019 post.)  What do these practices have in common?   Say it with me, They are part and parcel of a DOG & PONY SHOW!  It’s pure deception and not very subtle, at that.  Giveaways are fine at these events, but for God’s sake, and the sake of ethics, don’t link them to active participation. 

It never ceases to amaze me just how many ways companies engage in unethical business practices.  Imagine what the world would be like if they channeled all of this energy and creativity into doing the right thing!  

And the beat goes on…

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Postscript:  If you work for a company that plays one or more of these games, then the shoe definitely fits.  Wear it but definitely not with pride! 

Snowplow Parents: A Global Phenomenon?


Here’s a story you don’t see every day though there are probably countless more than are reported in professional Facebook groups.  Mommy and Daddy know best.  These parents are interchangeably referred to as lawnmower or snowplow parents,.  Their (dis)service to their children is to remove every obstacle in the latter’s path.  Think of it as a misguided and perverted kind of love.  Some are living vicariously through their children.  Rather than teaching them how to fish, they give them the fish, not exactly a positive and useful life lesson, unless the children have generous trust funds.  

In Viet Nam and other countries, there are many companies that provide this “service” for a handsome fee.  One in Viet Nam even organizes projects (think community service) so that their clients can list them on their resume and have something else to write about.  Customer as king and queen.  Or, to borrow a line from the movie Jerry Maguire and clean it up for a G-rated audience, I will kill for you, I will maime for you, … and pillage for you.  

Rampant fraud in the admission process, another investigative report waiting and dying to be written.  Whatever it takes.  The ends justify the means in a multimillion dollar industry that makes miracles happen – at any cost – for ambitious young people and perhaps even more ambitious parents, who will do almost anything to make their children’s (and their) dreams come true.  The end result is that all become collaborators and conspirators in a web of unethical behavior.  Bottom line:  Success without integrity is failure.  

Peace, MAA

Click Farms in the Education Industry? You Betcha!

India click farm.  Source: Equedia Investment Research

This is yet another laughable yet very real practice in the education industry.  Yes, dear reader, there are people in the biz who sit around doing this because 1) they have nothing better to do; 2) they’re mean and spiteful little creatures; and 2) they don’t realize just how short life is.  More commonly, there are people who outsource this “work” to companies that hire other people who spend all day clicking and posting in the name of fraud and a meager income (supplement).  The “work” of click farms is a double-edged sword.  It can be used to enhance the social media image of a particular company or drain the digital advertising budgets of its competitors.  

First things first for the uninitiated:  What is a click farm?  A business that pays employees to click on website elements to artificially boost the status of a client’s website or a product. Click farms are usually based in developing countries (including Viet Nam), where wages are extremely low by Western standards.  Source:  WhatIs.com 

I touched on this in passing in a 2014 article entitled Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment, published in University World News, at least at the individual (amateur) level.  

For your amusement and, possibly, shock, here’s a YouTube video from 2017 about a police raid on a click farm in Thailand.  

Cheating as a Misuse of Creativity

Here’s an article I recommend for both the perpetrators of this despicable practice and its victims:  Three reasons you need to stop clicking competitors’ AdWords campaigns

This except should whet your appetite to learn more:  

When Google AdWords emerged in October 2000, this indisputably changed the platform of online marketing forever, significantly extending potential client reach for prosperous businesses – all at the click of a button.

Eighteen years later, this remains to be an integral part of many business’ marketing activity – acting as a critical channel for easily accessible, rapid financial development.

However, whilst many organisations across the globe continue to persistently reap the rewards of utilising AdWords’ pay per click service, there remains to be a significant number of individuals and large-scale corporations alike who are willing to exploit this network for less genuine, constructive purposes.

This also applies to Facebook posts (!).  Eyes on the prize.  Success without integrity is failure!  

Peace, MAA

P.S.:  Here’s another good article about this topic:  Click Farms & Social Media

Using Competitors’ Names in Google AdWords

How many ways are there to skin a cat, when it comes to cheating students, parents, clients and partners?  Here’s one example that I mentioned in a 12/14 article about (un)ethical agency-based recruitment in Vietnam:

  • Using a well-known competitor’s name in Google AdWords, an example of a dirty trick that is not illegal, but is certainly unethical.

Actually, whether or not it’s illegal depends upon the facts of the case.  I’ll leave that to the trademark lawyers.

cheatingHere’s how it works.  Choose well-known names, corporate or individual, and use them as AdWords so that when potential customers enter them as search terms in Google they will see your ad at the top of the page.  This means that you can use competitors’ trademarks when using AdWords and probably not pay the price, legally and financially speaking.

Here’s a specific, real-life example.  Until the Google Ad was removed, literally overnight, this is what happened when you entered the followed search terms, which the offending company had used as Google AdWords:

mark ashwill vietnam

capstone vietnam fairs

This happened to Capstone Vietnam, my employer, as well as to another company in Vietnam.

What a lame and laughable attempt to piggyback on the good reputation of others in the hope that some gullible people will actually click on their ad.  While it’s obvious to most what’s going on, some will think there’s some sort of connection – what I like to call honor or credibility by association – and do just that.

Here’s a suggestion – why don’t these unethical companies try to improve their own reputation?  Then they wouldn’t have to resort to these dirty tricks and attempt to bask in the glow of their reputable competitors.


Dog & Pony Show Revisited: At an Education UK Exhibition?

Say it ain’t so, Joe!  I happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to stop by the British Council Vietnam’s Education UK Exhibition in HCMC, which was held on 13 March at the Rex Hotel.  Much to my surprise and disappointment, I noticed large groups of students, school uniforms and all (on a Sunday?), being accompanied to the venue.  They were college (3-year institution) students whose chances of studying in the UK range from slim to none, in most cases.

uk exhibition dog and pony show
It’s showtime!

Why?  It’s what I like to call a dog and pony show approach to fair organizing.  Rather than rely on quality organic attendance, which becomes a reality as a result of hard work both on- and offline, and sweating bullets until the doors open and attendees begin trickling in (or flooding) in, you can guarantee attendance and at least make the event look successful, plus create great photo ops by busing students in.  This is a tried-and-true tactic of unethical fair organizers but not something I expected to see from a respected organization like the BC.  To put it bluntly, it’s a form of cheating and the victims are the representatives who travel halfway across the world to recruit from among a pool of potential students.  I wonder if their leadership is aware of this?  If not, maybe they are now.  (Another tactic is to pay for student referrals, as I described in my last post.  There are also services that enable you to hire faux students.)

Here’s a relevant excerpt from a 12/14 article I wrote about unethical business practices among education agents and other educational consulting companies:

Artificially inflating attendance at physical events, for instance fairs, by paying schools to bus in students, many of whom have little to no interest in the event and thus are not ‘quality students’, or simply paying a service to hire fake students to attend the fair or information session, making it a dog and pony show rather than a legitimate event.

Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment

cheatingMy recommendation to BC Vietnam, as to any fair organizer, is to focus more on reaching out to quality students.  Institutions pay a lot of money to travel to Vietnam and deserve the chance to meet and interact with legitimate students not waste precious time talking to young people who are essentially “props” for the fair organizer.

Memo to organizations and companies that engage in this unethical practice:  Most recruiters can see through this sham after talking to one or two of these students.

Q:  Do you plan to study abroad?

  • A1:  No, my school organized this trip for me and my classmates.
  • A2:  No my school organized this trip for me and my classmates so we could practice our English.

You can only fool some of the people some of the time.  Let’s take it to the next level and do the right thing, folks.


Of Smoke, Mirrors, & Educational Consultants

I continue to document and add to my rather lengthy inventory the many ways in which educational consulting companies cheat their clients and partners.  This began with an article I wrote in 12/14 for University World News entitled Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment.

cheatingHere’s one that involves an upcoming US higher education mini-fair.  It’s what I’m fond of calling the “dog and pony show” approach to pre-event marketing.  Why do it the old-fashioned way – through extensive and costly on- and offline marketing – when you can simply bribe “students” to come to your event?  It’s easy, cheap and guarantees quantity, if not quality.  You want 500 students?  No problem!  Pay 50,000 VND per student.  Psst – hey, everyone!  We’ll pay you $2.25 in cold hard cash, if you register online, come to our fair and bring a friend.   That’s $1,125 – what a bargain!

If you really wanna rock ‘n roll, you can get 1,000 “students” for $2,250!  Then you can say in your promotional materials and on your website that it’s the BIGGEST FAIR IN VIETNAM!  Tell ’em what they wanna hear.  Bigger is better and money make$ the world go round, right?!?

smoke and mirrors,jpgI don’t know how many of these students are actually interested in overseas study, especially in the USA, but they are warm bodies who will create some buzz and make the fair look “successful.”  This is one of a number of ways to artificially inflate fair attendance.  Others include busing in students, most of whom have no intention of studying overseas.  For them it’s a field trip and a chance to practice their English with unsuspecting colleagues who have not paid lots of money to travel to Vietnam and practice their English with young people who have no intention of studying in the US.

Note to recruiters:  If most of the students are wearing the same school uniform, your fair organizer has probably bused them in.  This is also a common practice among local partners who organize events for regional tours.  Keep the clients happy – at all costs!