Pseudo-Couponing: Deceptive & Zero-Value-Added Technique

As I was searching the web to see if a particular merchant offers coupons, I came across numerous affiliate sites which by optimizing their webpages accordingly make it look as if that merchant may have coupons when, in reality, they do not. It got me thinking in two directions: (1) how ethical is such a marketing technique in comparison to what other affiliates may be investing their time, energy and money into (paid search, comparison shopping sites, content projects, etc), and (2) how much value are such affiliates bringing to the merchant? I’ve christened the technique pseudo-couponing, and I believe that the answers to both of the above-listed questions are really negative. This is neither an ethical competition, nor a value-added service. While the end user is sometimes being told that it is not a coupon that he/she is viewing, the prospective customer is nevertheless led to believe that there may be some discounts beyond the page that they are seeing in front of them, and all they have to do to get it is click the link. These links look like this:


Upon clicking either of the above, the end user lands on the homepage of the merchant that he/she is already familiar with, but there is no sign of any coupon/discount (because there aren’t any, and the pseydo-couponer knew this from the outset!) In meantime, the pseudo-couponer’s cookie gets set, and should the customer decide to proceed with his/her order anyway, it is this affiliate that will receive the commission for customer referral.

If you, as a merchant/advertiser, also believe that such an affiliate behavior is of no benefit to your business, you want to prohibit it in your affiliate program’s Terms and Conditions, spell out the penalties, and actively enforce the policy.

2 thoughts on “Pseudo-Couponing: Deceptive & Zero-Value-Added Technique”

  1. Thanks for covering this topic. I personally fell for a coupon the other day that left such a sour marketing tactic taste with me, I will not visit the establishment again.

    This business offered a “free desert” coupon for connecting them with your friends on facebook and they would also get the “free desert”.

    Long story short- there is nothing “free” about the offer- the dessert they offered as free is actually already included in all their meal plans and there was no difference between using the coupon or not and still required an $80.00 dinner purchase either way.

    I found this as a very deceptive marketing tactic and hope businesses like the ones you referred to above will realize that a negative feeling is much harder to overcome and actually costs customers.

  2. Sorry to hear about that experience of yours, Kristen. While in the above-quoted case, the consequences are not as far-reaching (there is no involvement of FB friends or anything of the kind), it is still deceptive marketing, and I believe merchants should be prohibiting it. Tricking a customer into believing that there may be a discount beyond the click on a link, when you’re hosting that link on your site just to get that cookie set, is just not right.

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