Busting the Affiliate Marketing Issues – World Telemedia 2013

By Rory Maguire, Managing Director, AIME

True to the 21st century civilisation that Europeans have developed over the past 100 years or so, a good lynching party has to start with a healthy debate.

The healthy but very heated debate was provided to us courtesy of World Telemedia, and the stage was set with three participants; myself as MD of AIME, Jonathan Levack, the fresh-into-the-company policy maker at UK premium rate regulator PhonepayPlus and in the middle, our beloved Telemedia star Paul Skeldon. The topic for debate: Busting the Affiliate Marketing Issues.

Earlier in the day, several World Telemedia attendees and AIME met, courtesy of Oxygen8’s meeting room at the top of the spiral staircase, to discuss how it would be possible to both utilise affiliate marketing for internet based mobile-charged products, but also to remain operational in the UK. At this point of time, it feels to a large quantity of premium rate merchants that utilising affiliate marketing in the UK brings a very high risk to their companies.

Some of the companies present had been subjected to PhonepayPlus Emergency Procedures in June and July due to malware that had seized their advertising in the hope to make the author a quick buck over a few days. Other companies were genuinely frightened to continue marketing to UK consumers in fear of the same issue and the phrase “the UK is closed for business” came up many times.

The same malware and others, it was reported to me, pop up in other countries, but the advertisers, often notified by the local regulator / trade body or competitor, deal with the malware or rogue affiliate swiftly, will refund affected consumers if any and will notify their affiliate marketing of the issue, sometimes instructing cessation of business with the sub-affiliate. So why is the UK different?

The opportunity to discuss this came up in the mid-morning session. I was given the stage to present my view first, which is that whenever there is money available in the internet environment, there will be scammers ready to fleece both businesses and consumers of that money. The internet provides a great hiding place for low level scammers.

In the case of the charge-to-mobile industry, service providers are putting their marketing money into the internet in exchange for good leads from diverse sites that consumers may visit. Affiliate marketing – pay on results – is very efficient for lead generation, but a scammer will work out quickly that while only a few consumers will buy the product based on its description, even more will buy the product if it comes with a promise of a high value freebie. Shopping vouchers, free movies, free software all seem to work well. The scammer is after the marketing money, not the consumer’s money, but consumers will have been misled and damaged in the process.

As the providers of the services put in place mechanisms to deal with the known scams, the scammers have come up with the next great idea. The latest one is to lock the browser with a virus and offer unlocking only if the consumer signs up to an offer.

As an advertiser, the trick is to ensure that your detection mechanisms are constantly evolving to detect consumers entering your service via false promises or malware, use reputable Affiliate Networks and ensure contracts with them are sound. As a consumer, don’t go browsing around without virus protection (who does?), don’t download dodgy software and if you were promised something at the beginning of your journey that looks different to the offer at the end of the journey, don’t buy! It feels like common sense to me.

Over to Jonathan Levack for PhonepayPlus’s view of the issue. I am not sure that he got a chance! The poor man was there to represent his organisation and personally did not deserve the verbal bashing that he received on their behalf, but the mood was definitely that of an angry mob and not the usual disgruntled individual.

Serious comments came from the floor about the deployment of their Emergency process and the subsequent Tribunal decisions, “why did you not report this to the police?”, “why did you not call us first?”, “the UK is hostile to us now”, “how can I be held responsible for the illegal act of another party?” and many others. At one point, the conversation heat was so high, that it the verbal lynching may have turned to a physical one. All the audience needed was wood, rope and nails to complete the job.

I have never seen such collective anger and it is truly distressing to see the industry and regulator so far apart on this topic. There is a lot of work to do to recover from where we now are.

If you are affected by any of the issues discussed here, you can write to AIME on info@aimm.co