You’ve likely seen the above photo of two fresh-faced and hoodie-clad Asian women on your Facebook feed, your email inbox, your Google searches, this Yahoo article — wherever your web browsing may take you.
EverQuote, the company advertising this photo, is a legitimate company based in Cambridge, Mass., that helps you choose the best car insurance policy with the right price and coverage for you. Founded in 2011, the company partners with over 5,000 insurance agencies and serves 5 million unique customers every month. The company’s annual revenue came in at $100 million and raised $36 million in Series B funding last month.
The glaring problem is these programmatic ads are misleading. These two women aren’t founders of the company as the ad might suggest. Moreover, other ads for the same company feature other fresh-faced young people.
Riffing off variations of two super smart college grads changing the auto industry, here are a few of the headlines that I have seen:
How 2 Boston grads are disrupting the auto insurance industry
Boston grads are disrupting a $200B industry
New York, New York: This brilliant company is disrupting a $19 billion industry
How 2 math grads are disrupting the insurance industry
You get the point.
Beyond the headlines, the tweaks are small but significant — changing the location, individuals and even hairstyles of the same individuals in the photos that have proliferated online.
So who exactly are these people? Are they stock photo models? Unassuming college students who thought they were being photographed for a blog? It turns out they all do work at EverQuote.
The campaign’s primary ad features two Asian women who are both EverQuote employees and 2016 graduates of MIT. While the ad makes it seem they are founders, or, at the very least, executives of the company, Laura Zhang (L) and Denise Tang are both senior quantitative analysts.
The two Caucasian guys are Connor Reck, a manager of media analytics and Rob Costa, a quantitative analyst. The Indian guy who accompanies Laura in several ads is Rohan-Kabir Amin, a former quantitative analyst in remarketing, whose last day was February 28.
EverQuote’s head of communications told Yahoo Finance the company is in the process of removing the ad with Armin. Moreover, the spokesperson said the company paused the campaign two weeks ago.
The ads are slowly being phased out because of the confusion that it has created (and inevitably lots of traffic to its site — with people Googling, “What is EverQuote?”)
So why aren’t EverQuote’s illustrious founders — the true disruptors who are both MIT grads — featured in ads of their own company?
CEO Seth Birnbaum told Yahoo Finance that the average age of an EverQuote employee is 27, and their young employees are the true face of the company.
“We wanted to showcase very real employees of our company. Especially because we are based in Cambridge, we have access to all kinds of great colleges in the area and we want to represent our young, diverse and exciting team in our advertising,” EverQuote co-founder and CTO Tomas Revesz told Yahoo Finance.
The spokesperson said the company has “considered using Seth and Tomas, and that ad set is currently being developed.”
Zhang, the main face of the EverQuote ads, said she actually helped devise the ad strategy.
“All of us on the search engine marketing team went to lunch and they were wondering who at the company attended MIT and we came up with a list. Since I also went to MIT, my coworkers asked if I’d like to take part in some photos for a test that was running,” she said.
After taking the photos in August, the company started circulating the ads on October 28, 2016.
What may seem even more confusing, however, is that the ad redirected to sites like “Provide Savings” and “Live Smarter Daily.”
The company’s director of communications told Yahoo Finance that “similar to companies like Wayfair, we started originally under a few other domains and brands before we settled on EverQuote and started to migrate our campaigns to it a year ago. Provide-savings is one of those legacy brands and will be phased out as we continue to consolidate our efforts on EverQuote.”
The ads may have posed problems beyond misleading consumers into thinking employees were co-founders. These ads were so ubiquitous, and had ties to so many sites, that internet surfers may have considered them spam. In reality, many people might not have realized EverQuote was a legitimate company providing a helpful resource — particularly for young adults looking for car insurance for the first time.
Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.