On Monday, 6/9, I participated in a Panel at the Internet Retailer Conference in Chicago titled: "Affiliate Marketing -- Why you can't set it and forget it". The panel description went on to talk about all the cool things people were doing to create incentives for affiliates to sell more. Talking with the panelists during the planning phase, it became clear that all of us saw that the real issues have to do with policing rogues who violate the Terms and Conditions and whether these programs are driving incremental business to begin with. We chose to focus on those issues. Naturally, I didn't make too many friends with the affiliates in the room. I stand by the content of my presentation, but I do regret some of the language I chose to use. To the extent that I highlighted ways to catch folks who violate the Terms and Conditions of their affiliate agreements, I have no problem calling those folks thieves, rascals, criminals, skunks and any other epithet that might have popped into my head on Monday. However, the other part of my talk, focusing on the extent to which retailers should rethink their terms and conditions, the use of coupons and discount codes, etc should have been spun differently. A number of coupon affiliates were rightly upset with me referring to them also as thieves, robbers and bad guys. If they're complying with the terms and conditions of the retailer's affiliate program they're obviously doing nothing wrong. My point was simply that retailers, on careful review of the source of affiliate traffic, should decide whether or not these types of affiliates add value, or if in fact they simply cannibalize sales and charge a commission for doing so. Here, instead of blaming the affiliates for taking advantage of retailers, I should have challenged retailers to take a more active role in defining what affiliates should and should not be allowed to do. The coupon affiliates who comply with the Ts & Cs aren't bad people and they're not thieves. I do think that careful examination by retailers will reveal that these deals do more harm than good, but it's not up to the affiliates to protect the retailer's interests, that's the retailer's responsibility. Finally, I implied in my talk that most affiliates were "bad guys". That was wrong. I apologize to those I offended. However, I do believe that the vast majority of the $3 Billion in affiliate commissions that will be paid out this year will go to cheaters, and other programs that add no value for retailers. There is a screaming need in the industry for someone to put together a network of clean affiliates, that will do the hard work necessary to drive incremental business, and that will police itself instead of requiring the retailers to play "cop". The folks who can pull this off will eat the existing Network's lunches.
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