"Kickass Newsletter" Encourages Affiliates to Cheat

Yesterday night a chief executive of a company which runs an affiliate program on a popular network, sent out a newsletter. Most of his affiliates have probably found it in their inboxes early this morning. One of them forwarded it to me. She’s been in the business for a while, but even she was surprised by the tactic used — “Not only is he offensive, but he suggests being dishonest” she wrote to me…

Without any further introductory words, here is an excerpt of that merchant’s newsletter (with sensitive information removed for obvious reasons):

Are you ready for a kickass affiliate newsletter? I hope so.

Iā€™m [Name here], the founder and president of [Company Name here] — We are the company that owns and runs [URL here] and 9 other retail websites. I’ve temporarily taken over duties as the affiliate marketing manager. I’ll only be doing this for a couple of months, so I figured I could do it my way.

I’m a straight shooter, I’m not very politically correct, and I sell weird shit for a living, so expect some unusual things in these newsletters…

Today’s newsletter is going to be a good beginning. 4 Things Affiliate Can Do To Get More Traffic

1. Create some … content…

2. Use every opportunity to optimize your site…

3. Let other people know about your site…

4. Cheat — That’s right, I’m telling you to take every shortcut you can. Why, because you are an affiliate, you have very little to lose. I would cheat if I could, but I’ve got a warehouse, 11 employees, three kids, and a building mortgage to pay. I also can’t change my domain name overnight. I have to follow the rules. You do not. So use the strategy du jour to create link farms, buy forum links, pay people to write phony reviews. I don’t care what you do and no one else does either. Make your money now before Google figures it all out. Then, if you get banned, try something else…

I must admit, I love the vigor. When you’re passionate about what you do, it always shows. However, regardless of whether you personally are “politically correct” or not, you want to be sensitive to the fact that your affiliates are mixed crowd, and some will find such writing style “offensive.” I would as well.

Additionally, I have a real problem with the advice he’s giving in that thing #4 that an “affiliate can do to get more traffic”. I mean — REALLY?! You want to entrust your brand to affiliates who “do not” need or “have to follow the rules”? You want “link farms” and “phony reviews” [read this]? Wow… I’m utterly surprised a president of the company that owns 10 “retail websites” would give such an advice.

If I’m missing something apart from the “shock therapy” type component had it been intended in the above newsletter, I’d love to learn what it is.

37 thoughts on “"Kickass Newsletter" Encourages Affiliates to Cheat”

  1. Thanks for sharing this Geno.

    I also appreciate the shock value and he had me until I got to number 4. He could have easily gotten a similar message across encouraging affiliates to be creative, but in an honest fashion. This “cheat” mentality is what tarnishes the reputation of performance marketing.

    1. I was exactly the same way, Gretchen — pretty engaged up until I got to that point #4. I am surprised (to say the least) that a merchant would actually encourage that.

    1. I suppose for someone living in New York City, his overall style may have not been too shocking for you, Olga. Or was even that style too much, you think?

      1. I think that is exactly why I smiled. Up until point number 4, I was thinking to myself that this may be something that I would say with the same exact delivery. I.E. Straight to the point and cut the crap. I actually think that a lot of people would appreciate that sort of vigor and enthusiasm so to speak. The concept and idea was completely killed for me with #4 though. I suppose identifying with that initial approach could indeed be the result of the hard rough life in NYC. šŸ˜›

        1. Just checked on the location of their corporate office, and it looks like they’re based just outside of Detroit, MI. Maybe that’s what they call “city talk”, after all… However, I’ll still stick to my conclusions (not only on the #4, but also on being more sensitive to your audience).

  2. heh.. don’t know about the city talk. I’d never push something so rugged out like that. Given that we live in an imperfect world… that would never fly. It is essential to be sensitive to your audience regardless of where you are or what you are doing. Perhaps they were trying a new shock tactic that will explode in their face.

  3. I thought it was great up to #4 . I am curious if the writer would be as enthusiastic if (s)he finds affiliates following advice #4 and iframing those retail site(s) or posing as their site in paid search or any number of crooked (adware anyone?) things that are being done to get over on merchants today? This person has a poor understanding of affiliates IMHO and they may find that the more honest of the affiliates in the program now start looking for a replacement merchant so as not to be wasting efforts in a lopsided playing field where cheating and crooks are encouraged. I would definitely take a second look at my exposure to their links.

  4. I saw the email last night also, I took the strong language in stride. Point #4 as a statement from someone who either doesn’t understand the affiliate industry or perhaps there more going on behind the scenes at the company than is known to the public. What I found fascinating was juxtaposed to this email was a post by Wade Tonkin, AM of Fanatics http://fanaticsaffiliates.com/2011/10/05/build-an-affiliate-business-by-adding-value-for-your-audience/.

    Wade had been around the industry for a long time and takes a long term approach with his post as opposed to this CEO that only looks at how to get their Q4 numbers up.

    1. Nancy, Steve, thank you for chiming in too. Good to hear what affiliates think about this situation. You’ve brought up some very important points there.

  5. Obviously there are problems here… but taking the newsletter and re-posting it on the blog here probably is not the best thing to do either. Whether it was a wise newsletter or not, it is still their newsletter (their content).

    1. Brian, I’ve struggled with the question (of whether to re-post or not to re-post), and decided to quote it (and express my opinion) on two reasons: (i) before sending it out the merchant chose for the newsletter to be publicly viewable by all affiliates (including prospective ones), and (ii) it creates a perfect how-(not?)-to case study on affiliate-geared newsletters (and with sensitive information removed will/should help other merchants).

      I do, however, appreciate what you’re saying (about it being their content), and even though they made it publicly viewable, I’ve shortened the above excerpt to a length that underscores the two main points that I’m making.

  6. While reading it my thoughts were this:
    First: You either Fired or terminated the contract for your manager or OPM, and are publicly venting your frustration to your affiliates over the poor work the previous manager did.

    Second: Sure we all sworn a few times in front of friends to add exclamation to our point, but to send that out in a publicly viewed email where you have NO idea of your target audience is reckless.

    Third: Cheating is OK for your business, so its OK for your favorite athlete and your son or daughter in school? We as an industry work with GREAT difficulty to make sure that we are represented as one of the most credible opportunities in internet marketing. We fight Black hat SEO tactics with a passion. Why? because Our brand names, Our Product, and Our affiliates are incredibly valuable. Yes there are wonderfully smart coders out there, but sooner or later their methods will fail. Honest and integrity have always been and will continue to be the best policy.

    We saw with the Panda update from Google that they are working tirelessly on their algorithms to invalidate just this sort of work. If not now eventually all of those gains will be nullified. And I forever Stand up, defend and inspire my incredible content creators that make my brand, product and services indispensable. I Know that when I get to the top I did it the right way and I will stick behind the saying that Cyclist Adore:


    1. Jared, thank you for the inspiration. Committing to “forever stand up, defend and inspire [those] incredible content creators that make [the] brand, product and services indispensable” is a stance worthy of every affiliate program manager’s admiration and imitation.

  7. Way to go!

    #4 is just being honest. Look around the serps people, if you’re not doing those things, or moved onto the next thing, chances are you’re lagging behind. Get with the program!

  8. I’ve had a zillion posts over the years saying I think merchants and aff managers think we affiliates are nothing more then pond scum. His “I have stuff to loose – you affiliates having nothing to loose” sorta’ helps me rest my case šŸ™‚

    1. I agree, Billy, it’s sad, but that mindset definitely exists …and as Gretchen of RingRevenue mentioned yesterday (in her comment above) it is “this “cheat” mentality” that “tarnishes the reputation of performance marketing” even further.

  9. Affiliates have the most to loose! Self employed, Paying for medical insurance NOT on a company plan, and their OWN honor and integrity to support with their families to boot.
    I hate saying this, but my program is the best program in my vertical in the world, if that’s lagging behind I don’t need success.

    1. I agree with you on both points, Jared; and I especially appreciate you continuing Billy’s line of thought, and stating that affiliates are actually the ones who “have the most to lose” — …especially if they go the cheating route, I must add.

  10. Wow! wow wow! Now that I think about it — I am really not shocked. Just disappointed. Then again this is why us ethical marketing managers always have quality work available to us.

  11. That’s just sad. And wrong…on so many levels. As so many others have commented, the honesty of the first 3 points was definitely not my style of being honest although it was “interesting” at least, and then the CEO showed their complete ignorance of Affiliate Marketing and relationship-building in general by the comments in point #4.

    In my opinion it’s doubtful that their affiliate program will ever recover from this. Even if the CEO gets a clue and tries to hire a legitimate Program Manager (either in-house or OPM) to attempt to clean up the mess that this email has just created, with that type of leadership style, it would be a VERY tough job.

    1. Sharon, that is a very good point. The “leadership style” and this CEO’s overall approach to affiliate marketing is plain wrong. Without a change in mindset (which this whole situation may very well lead to) no affiliate program manager will be able to fix this.

  12. I can deal with spammy tactics and black hat SEO. These things are shady, but not really dishonest per se.

    But fake reviews?

    Come on. That’s completely immoral, and the FTC loves to prosecute site owners for crap like that.

    1. …and even if it were not for the fear of the FTC’s prosecution, it’s still not something a higher manager of a company should call affiliates to. He’s asking for trouble.

  13. this doesnt surprise me in the slightest… if you think that all the big companies always play by the rules.. then you live in a dreamland. Successful companies have done shady things to get on top at some point or another. Business is a dog eat dog world and alot of companies will bend rules if they can get away with it

    1. I’m certain there is (unfortunate) truth in this. However, my main point was not so much about how any individual merchant may choose to do (or not do) business, but about what affiliates (representatives of an industry that already has enough rotten apples to deal with) are encouraged to do in an individual affiliate program.

  14. I stumbled on your blog while looking up affiliate programs to join and I had to stop and leave a comment in regards to the post. First I am really surprised that this CEO is taking such desperate measures to try and get and edge in the competitive space of affiliate marketing.

    I am a fan of Tony Robbins and one of the things he always preaches is that we are what we think about most. If more leaders would continue to focus on being ethical in their marketing tactics it would produce followers who share the same views.

    It all starts with having the right mindset and the world would be a better place if honesty was the most valued asset to have instead of dishonesty and greed.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  15. I agree that it is not pleasant to hear the forwardness/offensiveness of the newsletter but words unspoken doesn’t make things non-existent. We know there are “cheats” in every circle of every business – we can debate the degree of cheating but it exists.

    If that newsletter was politically correct, I hate to see a politically incorrect one.

  16. No, not at all, and that is the part of the newsletter that is over the edge.

    But it stands that even without the newsletter, it’s happening.

    “Cheating” is a broad term. That is why I said it depends on the degree of cheating. Gaining business advantage will always be pursued by the participants. Whether it crosses legal and moral lines would be topics for ongoing discussion.

    1. I disagree — both on the “broad term” part, and that “the degree of cheating” matters at all.

      No decent affiliate who is invited to break the rules, paying “people to write phony reviews”, and taking other “shortcuts” to “make money before Google figures it all out” will give this a second thought. Yes, there will be others (who contribute to the “cheat” mentality that Gretchen has mentioned, and the “pond scum” allegory that Billy has used), but does any serious merchant want his/her brand to be associated with them?!

  17. Geno, I agree with what you say. I am new to the affiliate world and learning from the excellent information on your site. Yes, the newsletter shows us that decent affiliates won’t operate like that (to borrow from your words). We just have to keep our eyes open and avoid them.

    It would be beneficial to a newcomer what these frowned-upon cheating tactics are. Your statement of “phony reviews” is a good example of what I am trying to determine. That was all I meant about broad term and degree – I wasn’t trying to elicit your agreement or disagreement.

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