Why in Affiliate Activation Termination Threats Don’t Work

Back in 2008, I wrote a blog post in which I (a) drew the industry’s attention to a common practice of affiliate managers sending out removal threats in hopes of activating affiliates, and (b) explained why it’s a dead-end strategy. I expanded on this in my 2011 Affiliate Program Management: An Hour a Day book urging affiliate program managers to drop this technique and treat affiliates in the spirit of true partnership, rather than an I’ll-beat-you-with-a-stick-unless-you-work style.

Time flies, but some things never change.

Recently, an affiliate forwarded an interesting email to me. With sensitive information removed (as the purpose of this post is not to call anyone out, but to expose a destructive “affiliate activation” tactic), here it is verbatim:

Subject: Order Activity & Removal Pre-warning – {AdvertiserName} Affiliate Program
Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2024

Hey team,

I hope you are doing well!

We are still awaiting you to become order active on the {AdvertiserName} program, if we fail to see any changes activity by next week, we will expire your contract on {NetworkName}.

The deadline to become order active is May 6th, 2024.

If there is anything you need from us in order for you to begin driving sales, please let us know.

Here is your tracking links – {URLtoLinks}



The linguist in me could pick on the grammar, the marketer in me could pick on the overall tone (seemingly friendly but, in reality, communicating a pretty mean message) and lack of effort to personalize… but it is the affiliate manager in me who is furious here. So:

  1. In the first direct email sent to the affiliate, the affiliate manager:
  2. Threatens the affiliate with termination/removal
  3. Giving them 1 week to start sending orders?

Fast-forward one week, and the affiliate who couldn’t refer any orders by the deadline, did get removed, and received a respective notice which also stated the following:

We cannot have dormant partners on our programs, which is why we have terminated your contract

The above-referenced affiliate program is managed by an agency. As an affiliate marketing agency owner, I do get how having “dormant partners” in affiliate performance reports to clients inevitably leads to inconvenient questions. I also get how significantly more sexy a report with a high affiliate activity index looks (versus one where the majority of onboarded “partners” aren’t “order active”). Finally, I fully understand the effect on the affiliate program’s EPC when the affiliate program you manage has affiliates that drive clicks but not conversions.

But does anyone really still believe that termination threats can motivate affiliates to activate?!

Alexander Hiam wrote about this back in 1999 pointing managers to the fact that “threats are generally counterproductive” and “always demotivating” and “we can motivate people to their highest levels of potential by presenting them with opportunities to succeed instead of telling them what to do.”

Dear fellow affiliate managers, instead of sending out activate-or-get-kicked-out emails, facilitate affiliate activation by equipping your affiliates with (1) Resources that would educate, (2) Incentives that would motivate, (3) Tools that would equip, and (4) the Support they need from you [more in my 20 Ways to Motivate Stagnant Affiliates to Activate]. Termination threats are not only unconstructive to your current situation but also highly toxic to your future relationships with affiliates.

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