Pablo Palatnik, writing in Search Engine Journal last week, had a bit of a rant about a recent lead generation campaign run through online ad network ValueClick.

Palatnik claimed that “nearly all” the leads returned were useless as many conversions were apparently driven through rewards sites.

It has kicked off a bit of a debate over the use of ‘incentivised’ traffic in these types of campaigns.

Palatnik said:

“The results were in…and they were horrific! Nearly EVERYONE (i.e. 99%) our client had called (and they did call all the leads, unfortunately for us) said they were filling out what they either thought was a survey to win a prize, had no idea what our client was offering, stated they never filled anything out of that sort, et cetera.”

He said he complained to ValueClick, which insisted that the leads did not come as a result of ‘incentivised traffic’, but were in fact ‘promotional traffic’. The leads were generated from sites like myshoppersrewards.

ValueClick did offer a partial refund, though Pablo was unhappy that his firm ended up paying part of the bill for what he considered to be ‘bogus leads’.

But we spoke to ValueClick’s VP of Corporate Strategy John Ardis, who said that the article was inaccurate and exaggerated:

“To suggest we are purposely trying to provide an inferior product and would disregard a client when they have concerns about quality is inaccurate. You don’t grow to be a $600m to $700m business by treating people that way.”

He also defended the policy of using rewards to drive conversions, saying this was common practice, and that ValueClick verifies these leads before passing them on to advertisers:

“They [consumers] have a host of things to choose from so ostensibly, most people will not sign up for things they have no interest in when faced with a variety of choices. Our lead generation business would not have grown as it has if there was not an acceptable ROI coming through.”

Online lead generation can be an effective method of increasing revenue, but much depends on the quality of the leads – customers should be made aware of what they are opting into and given a clear opportunity to consent to being contacted for marketing purposes.

One wonders whether this will affect marketers’ confidence in the nascent online lead generation business, as with the recent brand exodus from Facebook after it was revealed that ads were placed on BNP pages.

Related stories:

Challenge of measuring online lead generation ROI

Related research:

Online Lead Generation Report (B2C)