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While the general discussions about behavioural retargeting have concentrated on the thorny subject of privacy, for affiliate marketers the debate has a different focus, challenging some fundamental and long held practices.

There is little doubt that behavioural retargeting is appealing to advertisers and is garnering a burgeoning amount of coverage. In recent months a handful of retargeting companies have turned their attention to affiliate networks as an obvious place to gain immediate access to hundreds of brands.

In many ways this is typical of emerging digital trends and the affiliate industry. As the channel is commercially low risk, advertisers tend to be more amenable and flexible about trialing ‘the next big thing’, receptive to new technology, tools and linking methods knowing that if it doesn’t work, there is no cost implication.

But as the range of promotional methods increases so networks need to be aware of the impact on existing affiliates.

All affiliates chase the last click as that is what our industry is premised on and if a new affiliate enters the market with an innovative way of doing so then what happens to more established affiliates and their traffic?

In light of the increased attention retargeting is receiving the Affiliate Marketing Council (AMC) is finalising the details of a code of conduct with the aim of standardising practices across all networks.

First and foremost, the code addresses the thorny issue of post impression or post view (PV) cookies. Affiliate marketing has rarely engaged with anything other than the harder click cookie action, leaving PV to the branding elements of CPM marketing. However, with retargeting companies’ insistence on its use, networks are faced with the dilemma of whether to break with tradition and introduce its controlled use.

There are two important considerations here; cookie hierarchy and PV control. Following extensive debate the Council will formally announce the cookie overwriting standard in the next few weeks with click cookies firmly maintaining their precedence over PV cookies. Not only will this protect existing affiliates but will also help to demonstrate the incremental value of retargeting.

The second is how PV is pushed out more widely. Again the Council has decided that PV should be used in an open and transparent yet controlled way for those affiliates who can demonstrate its value. On paper this may look like double standards. Why should one affiliate benefit from PV when another won’t? In some respects there is no satisfactory answer here but control needs to be at the heart of all affiliate activity.

Some in the industry may raise eyebrows about why retargeting is even being considered for the channel. What is clear is that it’s here to stay and as merchants move towards de-duplication policies there is an obvious danger that much of this activity could sit outside of the networks’ remit with a subsequent loss of control over how it is rolled out.

By working positively with retargeting companies, networks are able to take a wider view and assimilate it within the overall affiliate mix ensuring no nasty shocks along the way.

Other considerations such as PV cookie lengths and on-page placement are likely to sit alongside the code of conduct encouraging best practice rather than enforcement.

No one fully knows what the longer term implications of this activity will be. Many campaigns may be launched, yet there is little to talk about at present. However, by ensuring the code of conduct is in place prior to launch we’re hopefully well placed to ensure advertisers take full advantage of retargeting whilst protecting their existing affiliate base.

For updates on the work of the Affiliate Council including the imminent launch of the code, visit the newly launched AMC blog.

Kevin Edwards

Published 26 August, 2010 by Kevin Edwards

Kevin Edwards is Strategy Director at Affiliate Window, the current Chair of the IAB's Affiliate Marketing Council and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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