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With increasing regulation and scrutiny coming in to the affiliate channel, including the extension of the ASA digital remit, what does the future look like for different affiliate models?

There has been considerable talk in the trade press about the extension of the ASA digital remit, but the discussion has mainly been about the impact on social media.

One thing that has been overlooked is the fact that affiliate marketing will fall under the ASA’s remit for the first time, and this has some pretty serious consequences for a channel that is becoming increasingly influential.

The ASA generally concerns itself with advertising that a brand has generated itself, governing on complaints about misleading claims. Within the affiliate space, brands are ceding control of what is claimed to 3rd parties, or affiliates.

The view has always been that because affiliates are taking the risk, spending their own time and money to drive traffic and only being rewarded if a sale takes place, that they should be allowed to operate within a loose set of guidelines to drive that traffic as they see fit.

The concern amongst brands will now be that the claims made on their behalf by affiliates hoping to drive traffic, could see the brand winding up in breach of ASA regulations.

I say “could” see, as at present it seems that there is quite a bit of confusion about who would be held responsible if a breach of the ASA code occurred: would it be the affiliate making the claim, the brand who are implicitly approving the copy by paying for it, the agency running the activity on the clients behalf, or the affiliate network who control the relationship with the affiliate?

Let us have a look at a couple of examples where affiliate marketing could be affected.

Product feeds

Many affiliates populate their site using product feeds produced by brands. This will automatically update the affiliate site and contains data such as price and availability. Were the feed not to be updated and wrong information about these aspects were reported, that could be a breach of the code.

Voucher code sites

Voucher code sites list valid codes, deals and offers that encourage the consumer to click through to the brand site to take advantage of them. Clearly, promising a deal or offer that is not available on the brand site would be a breach of the code.

Outdated content

While brands generally employ  significant sized tech teams to manage their content, and their sites are regularly updated, this is not always the case with affiliates.

Many are featuring many merchants on their sites and requests from merchants to change things can often go unnoticed. If these changes relate to something governed in the ASA code, again this could lead to a breach.

So where does this leave the world of affiliate marketing?

In some cases I foresee no change. Many brands out there manage their affiliate campaigns closely already and hold strong relationship with their affiliates meaning that they are unlikely to be affected.

However, I do see a situation coming where more brands will be looking to protect themselves by ensuring that they only work with a smaller number of affiliates whom they know and trust.

Unfortunately this goes against the original concept of affiliate marketing, but we have seen plenty of precedents where brands have culled affiliates on their campaign over the last few years to afford them greater control of their brand and against fraud.

I feel that the forthcoming involvement of the ASA could act as a catalyst for more brands to do the same. 

Matt Bailey

Published 28 January, 2011 by Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey is MD at Performance Horizon Group Ltd and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

2 more posts from this author

Comments (25)

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Reza Badel

Brilliant post Matt, very interesting to see the specific areas of affiliate marketing, which as you say 'could' potentially lead to a brand being in breach of the ASA code.

However as highlighted the lack of clarity regarding who is ultimately responsible for a breach may make enforcing these rules very difficult.

Although if one thing is for sure, this will certainly lead to increasing demands made of affiliates to comply with the ASA code, as the channel continues to become an important part of each brands revenue stream.

over 5 years ago

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over 5 years ago

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Helen Southgate

Hi Matt,

This poses a considerable challenge for many affiliate programmes as most will work with hundreds, if not thousands of affiliates who will all have several websites, and numerous pages within those websites.

With regard to who's responsibility this is it does as you rightly point out fall under the accountability of all stakeholders, Client, Affiliate and Agency / Merchant. However, I think most brands will feel that if they have a commercial relationship with a website then it is ultimately their responsibility to ensure that content across affiliate sites is correct and up to date. The responsibilities of each party are as follows:

• The client has the responsibility to keep their agency and affiliates informed of changes to copy / pricing etc.
• The network / agency has the responsibility to ensure that any changes are communicated to affiliates on the network and to ensure that changes are carried out
• The affiliate has the responsibility to make the changes as directed by the Client / Agency / Network

As a Client, I would expect affiliates to update their sites and if they do not then I would remove my commercial relationship with them. I would also expect my network / agency to be monitoring this on a regular basis.

As Chair of the IAB Affiliate Marketing Council I am setting up a new committee that focuses on regulation and this will be first on the agenda along with the EU Privacy Directive. There will be a meeting on this within the next couple of weeks and anyone is invited to join this so please do contact me if you would be interested in contributing to the debate.

As you point out Matt, there is a real danger of Clients reducing the number of affiliates on their programme in order to be 100% sure they are controlling their content across their network. It is therefore imperative that all stakeholders work together to ensure that the processes that should happen to ensure communication and actions are in place.

Helen Southgate

over 5 years ago

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Mary

In the last few weeks I have been receiving notices to update my links maybe that is the reason especially the feeds-valuable info -thanks

over 5 years ago

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Matthew Ogborne

Hi Matt,

I'm not sure I "get it". How can this be the death of the long tail?

We know full well that affiliate marketers are most adaptable of all. Brand leads programs have already clammed up and have been for quite a long time too (you try adding high street names in AWIN, Buy.at or Webgains to an account with no history).

This is no issue for affiliate marketers, because they focus on the other companies out there where the conversion can just be as good and there are a far greater range of products to hammer "the long tail" with.

Matt

over 5 years ago

John Braithwaite

John Braithwaite, Managing Director at Ergo Digital

I think the affiliate marketing channel is maturing and with better measurement tools, some of the looser operatives are going to struggle.

Also, the main issue about ASA etc. is not whether the 'rules' are there - it's whether they will actually be enforced! I dread to think how many affiliates are out there: can they all be called to account?

over 5 years ago

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Hero Grigoraki, Client Services Director at Webgains.com

there is a lot of scaremongering around in the industry at the moment, orginating from certain comments on the matter recently that gave a partial view of the ASA involvement. We've seen recently some merchants proceeding to culling affiliates in the pretext of the ASA fear - the logic "these affiliates don't promote us, so we don't know where and how they would be promoting us, so we will drop them to protect ourselves against the unknown" is just not justified at this stage. Even the ASA is still discussing exactly how it will work and it's still pondering the affiliates' responsibility in incorrect information published. For instance, can you solely condemn the merchant, who updates their feed daily, if some of their affiliates only update it weekly or monthly?

There is a lot of speculation in the affiliate industry on the matter at the moment - the best way to get informed is to come along to the IAB affiliate council who is the main point for clarifying the mechanism under which the ASA will regulate us.

over 5 years ago

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Hero Grigoraki, Client Services Director at Webgains.com

John - the ASA will not be enforcing rules nor will they be monitoring online activity in general. They will only be investigating specific things for which they will have received consumer complaints.

over 5 years ago

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Depesh

Another over-egged use of a post title to try and hook in readers. Looking past that, its good that you've highlighted some of the risks, but I think it can only be a good thing that ASA are trying to reign this in. Many affiliates do a good job in adding value to the brands they work with, and probably as many do the opposite, detracting from the user experience and causing both brand and customer no end of grief.

The problem with affiliate marketing is the get rich schemes with sites adding no value whatsoever to the user or merchant to make a quick buck. ASA may not be able to fully control this but anything that can be done to improve the quality of some of these affiliate sites can only be a good thing.... though I look forward to seeing the first few cases enforced to see if they can actually make a difference

From someone who's worked as a merchant and now as an affiliate as well as a consumer, I'm all for improving the experience for all.

over 5 years ago

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Grant Reid

For a long time now Affiliate Marketing has needed some kind legislation to ‘try’ and manage the marketing messages they are putting out on behalf of the brand owner. In my view any affiliates who value their business and their relationship with a brand will already be keen to ensure they are communicating the correct message, on brand at the right time. With many brands spending millions above the line, it will always ensure that the potential consumer has the ‘comfort’ to buy via a third party.

Will the long tail suffer – maybe, but it can only be a benefit if we are removing affiliates that are not communicating the message brand or sales in the long term. With affiliates becoming more important to brands, in terms of driving incremental volume, we have to think about the long-term sustainability of affiliate marketing and making it a more professional and accurate environment for consumers.

over 5 years ago

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Matt Dailey

I am glad to see some people have already picked up the fact that the ASA are about as effective as a UN peacekeeping mission and will only respond to complaints but I think the key thing fromthis article is a rocket up the arse of any brands that are either playing in this space already or have their agency doing it for them, to ensure it is all being managed properly. Ultimately I think alot of the responsibility will be on the Networks shoulders to make sure they have appropriate contracts in place covering acceptable practise and responsibility for the different areas of responsibility. However, agencies should be regularly auditing sites and content on the programme and new affiliates should have an approval process that they have to follow on both acceptance to the programme and copy changes/content updates etc. Its just a case of due dilligance and if something goes wrong, then whoever is managing the campaign should have the processes in place to cover themselves.

over 5 years ago

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Kevin Edwards

Lets not forget affiliate marketing activity is already covered by the ASA but March 1st will see an extension to the existing digital remit. Asbof will also seek to collect payment from networks on a handful of their biggest campaigns.

I concur that cross-industry collaboration is necessary and has been pretty successful over the past couple of years but as the former Chair of the Affiliate Marketing Council (AMC) I would like to see a few more vocal people actual go beyond verbalising their thoughts and doing some of the work. It's fantastic that 80 people attended this month's AMC meeting but the responsibility of regulating our industry sits within everyone, not just a handful of the most engaged networks and a couple of other individuals who have spent the previous three years putting in the graft.

Actions speak louder than words and as Helen says I would encourage others to get involved.

over 5 years ago

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Kevin Edwards

Incidentally, further to the above you can keep up to date on how affiliate marketing is reacting to the ASA extension by following the AMC blog. The minutes from January's meeting are on site:

http://www.iabaffiliatemarketing.com/january-2011-affiliate-marketing-council-minutes/

over 5 years ago

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John

ASA? Maybe you should inform the stupid people what the ASA is. Yes, I know what it is because I google it, but not everybody does. Throwing around industry jargon is unprofessional imho.

over 5 years ago

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Bernardo Marcenac

Soy nuevo en internet mas me parece que el marketing en internet es de suma importancia sobre todo para aquel usuario que se quiera promocionar en la red o quiera promocionar y vender sus productos o como en mi caso los articulos y productos de terceros y para ello tengo que contar con una empresa como la vuestra que los ponga en primera linea .Les agrdesco que me incluyan entre sus asociados

over 5 years ago

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Matthew Bailey

Another Matt Bailey..how cool...haha

Does anyone know the disclaimers needed in Canada for affiliates? I know its not near as "hard-core" as what's needed in the USA but not sure where to look.

over 5 years ago

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Ethical Affiliate Marketer

This is very good news indeed.

While I normally don't like the government butting into our lives anymore than it already does... I think any sensible person can see there is a real problem, at least to some degree, with some of the affiliates out there.

When you are doing everything ethically it makes it a lot easier to compete if your competition will no longer be able to lie / deceive visitors to their websites offering discounts and such that are not real (you can buy PRODUCT X for 20% off the normal price by clicking on this link right here).

Besides, doing that kind of crap I feel ultimately hurts all of us. Consumers, all affiliates and the brands. But way too many people have no ethics at all when it comes to making another sale. I hope actions such as this help to weed them out of the industry.

over 5 years ago

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Gerald Hiebert

I am not overly concerned as I am tentative. I think that there is always room for improvement. It may just take some sharks out of the water. I will just focus on helping people find what they want.

over 5 years ago

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anti aging health

I love how everyone is getting their knickers all in a bunch over rogue affiliates, but no one is talking about the responsibility of affiliate networks like Clickbank that consistently allow known, fraudulent advertisers into their network as long as they are bringing in the cash.

How many times have complaints been lodged against lying affiliate marketers who claim they are selling "only 12 more copies", only to have the program sell on Clickbank for months? Why aren't we holding Clickbank responsible?

Where is the responsibility of Clickbank type networks to weed out the rogue marketers?

over 5 years ago

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Lynell at Japan SEO

What happens if you have a 10-year-old blog with thousands and thousands of posts in which you have manually embedded hundreds of affiliate links (many of which may be invalid)? What if you have a review site with hundreds of products? The long tail of these affiliate links never bring you any income, and it's hardly worth the time to try to sort through all the archives trying to weed out this stuff. Let's hope that preexisting content is grandfathered out of such regulations until such time as the owner edits or changes it.

over 5 years ago

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Max

To quote Wolfgang (arte Johnson) the German soldier from Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in .... "Verrry interrresting but shtoopid" (sic).

The equivalent analogy in the non-digital world would be equivalent to saying something like Heinz (arguably the second most famous global brand after Coke) is responsible for how Walmart, Sainsbury's or whatever your favourite corner store may be, promotes sales of "Heinz Baked Beans"! Duh! What about the even more ridiculous scenario of a local garage promoting sales of Fords (second-hand ones)? It's STILL a Ford, it's still a brand - is the ASA going to enact similar legislation there too? Grow up and get a life!

ANY brand worthy of the name will act in its own interests to protect its brand - if not the brand will suffer. We do not need even MORE nanny state interference to cater for this scenario.

This seems to be a case of some little Hitler (maybe several) within the ASA having delusions of grandeur well above his brain cell level.

Why do we need legislation to cater for truly STUPID people - they rarely need protection from others more than they do from themselves.

Best regards.

over 5 years ago

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Peter

Does any body know how many complaints there are. I'm a newbie and I'm learning. I've been burnt a few times but I just try to learn by my mistakes and get over it.

Peter

over 5 years ago

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Mike Johnson

Thanks for the excellent article. Ultimately I agree with your perspective that the ASA will not have a measurable impact and can perhaps even have a positive impact.

over 5 years ago

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Rufus Bazley

Personally i can't see there being a big negative, to me this looks like affiliate will be getting more up to date information to use on their sites, as a result the user will be provide more accurate information from the affiliate to use and consider when buying.

All in all this is great news for everyone as more accurate details will naturally induce increased conversion resulting in more sales and commission for everyone.

The only negative i can see if that affiliate managers will need to be a little more "on the ball" with their information there sending.

over 5 years ago

Kiera Doherty

Kiera Doherty, Digital Marketing Manager at AETN UK - HISTORY channel, Crime & Investigation Network, Bio, Military HISTORY

Ensuring the consumer has a transparent and valuable web experience by forcing affiliates to keep their product pages & websites up to date and their offers current seems like a reasonable ask.

It's interesting what can happen when 'responsibility' falls between multiple clients/companies/agencies/partners.

over 5 years ago

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