This is a massively dry, boring topic, of course, and unrelated to web development. But, as a digital marketer, I find it interesting, as it’s a fine example of the intersection between advertising technique and ethics.
You see, for the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing ads for PPP loans — especially in my Facebook feed. At first, I ignored them, as I didn’t think they applied to me (as a self-employed individual). But then later on, I came to understand that perhaps they did apply.
Eventually, I clicked (which I rarely do on ads). So, I’ll relay my take on the experience. But, aside from that, I also noticed some differing messages in these ads.
Tactic #1: Market Just the Loans
Some ads appear to be simply marketing the availability of these loans. Here are a few screen shots from my Facebook feed:
Here’s another, from SmartBiz Loans:
And here’s another from Nav:
Tactic #2: Market the Loans, and Also Suggest the Forgivability Aspect
Next up are ads that market these loans and also make some sort of reference to the forgivability aspect. Here’s an example from my feed, from Opulence Financial Group:
So, this one’s interesting in that, text-wise, there’s no reference to the forgivability aspect. But, clearly, the photo makes a suggestion about it.
Here’s another like this, from LibertySBF:
Tactic #3: Push the “Free” (Forgivability) Aspect:
Next up are the ones that focus on the idea of “free money.” Here’s one from BlueAcorn. Notice the “100% Forgivable PPP” appears in the text, “100% Forgivable” in the bulleted items, a bright yellow “Forgivable” in the graphic, and again a “PPP Forgivable Loans” at the bottom.
BlueAcorn has another running under a separate username (BluePPP) where the text reads “100% forgivable” at the top with a “See More” link. Only when the “see more” is clicked does the user see a clarification about the forgivability (“when used on wages” etc.). Here’s a clip of that one, first in its pre-click state, and then when it’s clicked:
Here’s a second example from the same company — same tactic:
And a third — ’cause it’s a PPP-Party:
I recall another company really pushing this forgivability aspect: Womply. Sadly, I couldn’t find their ad again today. But, a quick visit to their page showed a posting that more or less followed the formula I remembered:
This one (above) asserts, in the graphic, that “[b]orrowers qualify for full loan forgiveness.” It does clarify that in the text atop the ad. But it’s still interesting to me.
Update: Later, they seem to have toned down the forgiveness angle, at least a bit. For example, here’s one showing now:
But, back to the forgiveness-pushing advertising… Here’s another that showed up, this one from FeeFighters. Again, note the repetitive “100% Forgivable” at the top, and then again at the bottom:
FeeFighters gets so excited about it, they involve Oprah:
On the other hand, maybe “FeeFighters” isn’t another company, but yet a third iteration of the Blue Acorn people. Check out this additional ad I saw from FeeFighters, featuring the same guy from the BlueAcorn ad:
Weird, isn’t it?! But there are still others promoting the forgivability aspect. Here’s one from “”Hownd.” Note the same basic tactic.
But wait a minute. Are the a different company, or just yet another iteration of the Blue Acorn people? Let’s click to find out:
It’s getting predictable, I guess. Hey, more power to them. If what they’re doing is legit (and it may well be), then I suppose they’re just savvy marketers, most likely. As an internet marketing guy myself, I’m aware that there are various tricks and quirky tech reasons for doing this kind of thing. So, I’ll let it go for now. But still, I do have some concerns.
About Forgivability: The User’s Perception
This seems to be a significant concern for many. For example, this site cites their survey in which 8 of 10 small business owners expressed what amounts to confusion over the forgivability aspect. This article in Forbes describes forgiveness as “shrouded in a daunting combination of governmental vagueness and public confusion.”
I think the above ads underscore the fact that perception ranges from “it’s a low-interest loan” to “it’s a free cash bonanza.”
Many (if not all) of the above advertisers also promise to shepherd users through the forgiveness aspect. Based on much of that language, it’s not surprising that, again, the range of perception about this ranges from “it’s going to be doable, though likely a paperwork nightmare” to “the lenders will definitely just rubber-stamp all requests and all will be forgiven.”
The inconsistency is troubling at best.
Of course, for as definitive of a guide as I imagine exists, one could look at the SBA’s own info on PPP loan forgiveness. But even that won’t clear up all of the above-mentioned (and other) issues here. The state of things is this: There’s no 100% definitive answer.
So … Did I Click?
Yes. I decided (after speaking with various CPAs, actually) to go ahead and look into this. No one recommended a specific lender, though. So, I started with BlueAcorn (admittedly because I’d seen the most ads from them). And the application part, as they claimed, went fairly quickly and smoothly.
One does get a bit nervous, though, as you’re sharing personal financial information (tax documents, and even a bank sign-in, which I’d have been doubly nervous about had I not used services that use Plaid before, all without incident).
Anyway, I did one for myself, and one for my wife, as we both are self-employed Schedule C filers and apparently qualified for these.
For my wife, they emailed her right away and apparently things were in motion (though nothing has actually happened yet — today being a few weeks after that). So, who knows?
For my own application … just nothing aside from an “application complete” status message. A day went by, and then two, and then seven, and then many more. Zero response when I reached out via their site, via email, and/or via direct FB message. There’s basically zero ability for me to contact anyone. Just … nothing!
So, I looked into it more. I kept seeing negative reactions things like this …
… but also many positive ones like this:
I don’t know what to think, really. The positives far outweigh the negatives. So, I do believe these companies are at least legit. So, why the radio silence when you try to contact them about your loan status?
- Perhaps they’re simply overwhelmed with inquiries.
- Perhaps they’re not all the best communicators.
- Perhaps many applicants have complicated situations and land in “problem” piles at these places, and they’re either taking a long time or they’re stuck for this reason.
I really don’t know, to be honest. Time will tell, I suppose. If free or low-interest some cash comes my way, well that’s great. If not, I’ll get by.
APRIL 2021 UPDATE: Of the three mail companies listed above (Blue, Womply, and Liberty), I did get to the final stage with two — Womply and Liberty. Both sent me a Promissory Note (the final stage before funding). I signed the Womply one, and then had to sign a second version of it. But, I *think* it worked. (Haven’t seen funding yet.) The Liberty one also got to that stage. But, I didn’t go through with it, as the Womply people got it done quickest.
Though I hadn’t known about this before (and this was NOT the point of my article), Womply also has a referral program. They sent me a link: https://www.womply.com/ppp?rc=ag5sv1. So, if you want to use Womply, follow that link and they will award me $200 for sending you to them. (I doubt many will see this, but hey, $200 is $200! So, sure.)
Concerns with PPP Lenders
I think my main concern here is that, while the companies are all likely legit (based on widespread reports of people actually getting funding), it sure seems like they’re selling these loans based on presumed forgivability when that actually may not be what happens.
Ergo, part of my reason for writing this article was simply to document this suspicion now, as I’m sure those ads (and many others like them) will be unfindable in the future. If consumers get screwed here (which might happen), I think the existence of an article like this one may prove handy to the consumers and to any lawyers representing them.
Maybe that won’t be the case. I could simply be being a little pessimistic. And, before someone chimes in with the obvious: I’m well aware that there’s no such thing as “truly free” money in life. Someone somewhere will have to pay for this — i.e., the US taxpayer. But that’s a whole other discussion.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time.