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Yesterday at the IAB's affiliate marketing council, chair Kevin Edwards presented an unbelievable quote taken from The Economist, a weekly newspaper with a focus on politics, policy and an authority on global business news. Let's have a look at it...

The Economist claim affiliates are criminal freelancers

This is simply a poorly researched and mal-educated quote from a respected print magazine which, unfortunately, is read by senior management within many organisations.

It continues to raise the question of why affiliate marketing suffers from such a bad reputation?

This £5 billion industry, which is very much legal, has helped grow global brands like Apple, Dell and Sky. Their involvement in affiliate marketing boasts highly successful results to this day.

Poorly researched articles from The Economist will continue to stop new entrants to the space and could reduce further investment from big or small brands.

I'm not saying that there aren't a few bad apples within the industry. Bodies such as the IAB Affiliate Marketing Council and respected networks and agencies are working damned hard to self-regulate and police that element, but the Economist article is false, unbalanced and borderline slanderous.

The Economist is essentially claiming that the likes of Nectar, Airmiles, Telegraph, IPC Media, Quidco and vouchercodes.co.uk are “groups of criminal freelancers”. It is somewhat ironic that The Economist runs an affiliate programme via the Google Affiliate Network.

So to all those who work within affiliate marketing and beyond, I believe we need to ensure we shout louder and harder about the positive impacts of this channel which – if managed correctly – can be a hugely profitable customer acquisition channel. In my view affiliate marketing doesn't get the exposure or credit that it deserves.

The IAB Affiliate Marketing Council is rightly drafting a response to The Economist and I trust an apology will be subsequently printed.

Meanwhile, in my role as an affiliate marketing lecturer for Econsultancy, I would like to personally invite The Economist to our next session, to increase their level of knowledge about affiliates

Chris Bishop

Published 26 November, 2010 by Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop is Founder & CEO of 7thingsmedia and a contributor to Econsultancy. He can also be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

17 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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Alan L

Well said, Chris!

almost 6 years ago

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Diane

On that basis you could argue that ads in newspapers and magazines are spammy...

almost 6 years ago

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Charlie

Very well said indeed Chris!

They are clearly very uneducated in the affiliate industry! A lot of our top content sites would be highly offended by this comment as they are far from 'criminal freelancers' in fact their sites are where our customers research is taken place before coming through to book their holidays with us, therefore actually playing a very incremental role in the user journey. Without these sites helping to promote our brands and drive traffic / bookings we wouldn’t be as successful in driving our online marketing budgets as we are today.

almost 6 years ago

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Mrs D

As someone who has an affiliate site aimed at the 40+ woman I find it bemusing to be associated with criminals – those of us who run these sites send a lot of time researching content, making it applicable to the reader / consumer and apt to the their market place /niche – we work hard to entertain our readers/ consumers and hope they trust our judgement or information on a peer to peer level and if they purchase then great – but I don’t see anything criminal in that … poor uninformed journalism is a crime 

almost 6 years ago

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Tom

My understanding is that the term affiliate is derived from affīliātus – “adopted as sons”.

 

This is precisely how I see affiliate marketing – partners, satellites, or sons – carrying our digital marketing activity on the behalf of their clients for fair reward.

The reporting of the economist appears to want to derive a new term for affiliate – identifying it as the sole practice of criminal gangs.

This is not just misleading, inaccurate, and incorrect but fundamentally wrong as well as damaging to an industry sector.

As Chris correctly points out - this is a £5 billion industry – supported by some of the UK’s best known brands, biggest advertisers and credible institutions across all verticals.

These large brands include such illustrious names as… the Economist – which runs their own affiliate programme through the Google Affiliate Network. This would suggest that either the Economist is responsible for funding criminal gangs or that the Economist is responsible for journalism with questionable research practices.

These comments are entirely my own and not related to my employer in any way. With that in mind the Economist claims “91% of readers perceive the companies that advertise on Economist Online as having an international presence and a quality image.*”

That’s an image that a brand that’s close to me would probably like to associate with – but I don’t think I’d want to associate a brand that’s close to me with someone that either funds criminal activity or is responsible for journalism with questionable practices.

almost 6 years ago

Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop, Founder & CEO at 7thingsmedia

@ Mrs D - "poor uninformed journalism is a crime" That's definitely the takeaway comment

almost 6 years ago

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Geno Prussakov

What an example of lousy journalism!! Thank you for this post, Chris.

almost 6 years ago

Stuart Aplin

Stuart Aplin, Owner at Decibel Media

Hang on everyone, the writer of this piece isn't labelling all affiliates as 'criminal freelancers' ... hence the quotation marks around the word.

I agree that the way the article has been written may, when read by some senior execs with a lack of understanding of the affiliate marketing channel, be taken as damaging but that simply serves to highlight how important the self regulation and policing is so that the industry can become as widely accepted as it deserves to be.

I've had the pleasure of working with some outstanding affiliates, and some less-than-outstanding too, and would readily recommend it as a channel to almost every DR client but let's not start vilifying the Economist as an organisation just because of a few words in an article that could have been put better...

almost 6 years ago

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Sam

Completely agree with Stuart. Please could people read the article a little more carefully before jumping to conclusions, this is in no way a full scale assault on affiliate marketing (which, if you were to read these comments/the article above, you would think the Economist was doing). The focus of the article is the amount of spam and developments relating to this. The fact is that these spammers are affiliates of the companies whose products they promote, and they earn commissions for sales made. These individuals are also criminal freelancers by nature of the way they conduct business/spam millions of email addresses. Those are facts, and I would venture that the perceived attack on affiliate marketing supposedly found by eConsultancy and the comments above is purely imaginary. In fact the mention of affiliates in inverted commas suggests that the author does not consider these criminals to be true affiliates, and condemns their behavior (as mentioned by Stuart). There is no need to make this article into an assault on affiliate marketing, to do so is only attracting negative publicity for the industry which rather undermines the point of the IAB and its regulations. I would suggest that by making this article that has very little to do with affiliate marketing into a large issue, the industry is shooting itself in the foot by attracting the negative publicity that it tries so hard to shake off.

over 5 years ago

Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop, Founder & CEO at 7thingsmedia

@ Geno & @ Tom - thanks for your comments.


@ Stuart - I understand your point hence the action to reply with this article stating the self regulation by the networks, agencies & naturally bodies such as the IAB. 

@ Sam - I appreciate what you're saying but the aim of this article was firstly to defend the industry, if, readers did believe it was a blanket description of “affiliates”.

Plus also, I believe the industry can particularly bad at promoting itself (or trade journalist choose not to cover this) and hopefully this article will go a small way to push it's members to shout about our combined successes.

The Economist could have simply added more context or to state that not all affiliates act in this matter, as you and I know. 

Ultimately this is a memo to The Economist, that as a thought-leading publisher they need to understand their responsibility - a piece such as this in the wrong hands could stop an Marketing Director from injecting budget into the channel or worse case question and pull out of the space altogether.

Naturally, as with the written word, it is down to it's interpretation.  But I, like many whom read the article, felt it was either poorly researched or worded.

over 5 years ago

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Alan L

I have to disagree with Sam and Stuart. The wording the writer uses in the article is highly ambiguous at best and thoroughly misleading - nay, defamatory - at worst. The writer conveys the impression of never having heard the term 'affiliates' before and so, completely failing to understand that this is the informal name by which CPA Publishers are commonly referred to, concludes that this is the nick-name for a group of shady, covert web-based miscreants. I strongly support eConsultancy for speaking out to put the record straight and I think a clarification from The Economist ought to be the least our industry might reasonably expect.

over 5 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

As a subscriber to the Economist and work in this space II read their digital related articles with interest.

I have to say that when I first read this article I felt they were referring to 'affiliates' merely as third parties - which I agree with and I think athey are largely correct.

The problem comes from the association to 'affiliate marketing'  which is not what the Economist means at all. The journalist definitely should have had/shown more awareness of this space and chosen terminology more carefully but surely no big problem.

Perhaps a little over-reaction on this thread?

over 5 years ago

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Short_attention_sp

What Rob said. Clearly "affiliate" is used in a generic sense and is interchangeable with "third party" or "proxy" and equally clearly there is no inference that the article is talking about affiliate marketing or marketers. This piece is therefore an embarrassing over-reaction which has the unintended consequence of harming affiliate marketing by demonstrating a complete lack of comprehension with respect to the Economist piece.

Of course, if the intention of this blog is to suggest that affiliate marketers are slightly dim but very thin-skinned then full marks all round!

over 5 years ago

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Duncan Heath

I'm glad someone pulled them up on this Chris. People can't get away with making flippant and uneducated remarks about industries they don't truly understand, especially when their voice is so loud.

I hope they attend/attended your next affiliate marketing lecture!

about 5 years ago

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