What You Need to Know About Brushing and Fake Reviews

By: Gina Lee De Freitas

It seems like a strange thing to complain about: Boxes of free electronics and consumer goods arrive on a customer’s doorstep, and she never has to pay for it or return it. What seems like a lucky break, though, is a scam called “brushing,” which presents a challenge to marketers in this age of distrust. 

What is brushing? Brushing is a scheme that includes a buyer – often the vendor itself – using gift cards to make verified purchases on sites like Amazon. They have the items shipped to legitimate addresses. The phantom buyers, actual verified purchasers, then make glowing, 5-star reviews.

Brushing is a violation of Federal Trade Commission regulations, which require reviews to be the honest experience of the reviewer. Amazon says when it catches vendors doing it, they are banned from selling on the site. So why should honest brands and their marketing partners be aware or concerned about the practice?


Reviews are crucial for companies today. An estimated 87 percent of consumers say a positive review has confirmed their decision to make a purchase. However, 15 percent of all online reviews are fake.

For honest brands and marketers, this is a challenge. What happens if your brand builds a genuine, great reputation, only to have consumer mistrust of reviews devalue it?

It’s not just fake reviews that are breaking the trust of consumers. Ad fraud and bot traffic are also major issues. Companies including Procter and Gamble and JP Morgan Chase dramatically reduced their digital advertising partially due to bots and brand safety concerns. The companies say the gutted budgets did not reduce their visibility or reach. 

What does this mean for marketers? 

In response to waning trust, marketers and brands should engage in a conversational way with both fans and critics who leave reviews. In addition, they should have a policy of transparency that is well-communicated throughout the entire lifecycle of their campaigns. This should include zero tolerance for fake reviews or marketing ploys designed to deceive. 

Marketers shouldn’t fear negative reviews: In fact, responding to a critic in a compassionate, human way shows the public that reviews are real. Madison Reed responds to users unhappy with their hair color choices, JetBlue has offered to make things right with unhappy air travelers, even small pizza joints offer discounts and even amusing rewards to displeased diners on Yelp.

Trust is one of the most powerful assets a brand has. Keep the conversation going by responding to fans when they leave positive reviews. In addition, responding to earnest negative reviews – especially if it’s possible to make things right with customers – is one of the more effective things you can do to build trust in your brand.

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At IMM, creating action isn’t just what we do — it’s who we are. Our agency is built to deliver full service capabilities while also delivering measurable results. Big data is the marketing buzzword everyone talks about but few understand. We are here to explain in plain English how data-driven, bottoms-up marketing strategies can help generate leads, drive sales and build your brand. We leverage the expertise of the staff at IMM, a data-driven, full-service digital advertising agency based in Boulder, Colorado.

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