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August 13th, 2008, 06:01 PM #1"Ethical Issues in Affiliate Marketing" Panel - Afterthoughts.
Thanks first to Haiko and Chuck for organizing and putting on the panel. Haiko, you did a great job as the moderator of a difficult panel to moderate... The opening questions for each member of the panel really provided for an interesting starting point for conversation.
Thanks also to my great panel-mates in Michael, Connie, Paul and Chuck. I thought we were able to discuss some pretty difficult issues (that often have no correct answer) and everyone had great points. I personally enjoy talking to people about these issues because there are often angles that I never consider and listening to all of the points made was very productive for me.
I took a couple of things from the session myself, and would be curious to see a good discussion on the panel continued here at ABW...
1. A question was raised as to whether or not Merchants should be left 100% responsible as to who is in their program and who is not. Including what tactics are allowable and which are not.
2. The issue of transparency was raised by Michael (Pepperjam) as a critical element in our industry. I do agree with him on that but would like to hear more about exactly what that means to everyone. Transparency is a word with all kinds of meanings and levels.
3. Thank you to the audience member who reminded us that we are all individuals (or companies) ....and that is a strength. She reminded us that we don't want to all become exact replicas of each other... and that any standards based initiatives should keep that in mind. Great point - so thanks for standing up and saying it.
4. As I mentioned on the panel (thank you to the audience member for the question as well!!), I don't believe a "Network meeting" whereas standards of behaviour are discussed can be productive. My opinion is that each and every network knows exactly what they are doing, and has opinions on what they each consider strengths of their product. It would not be productive to try to put down "compromises" in areas where some may feel is a competitive strength over another competitor.
5. Audience participation was great and I was very encouraged to see how many people showed up to our session which was very late in the day on the last day of the show. I encourage everyone who wanted to ask a question but didn't feel comfortable, to send me an email if they feel like their question is still unanswered. If I can't answer it or think it is better suited for another panelist I can forward it along...
Those are some of my initial thoughts, ... I'd be interested to hear yours.Thanks,
President/CEO - ShareASale.com, Inc.
August 13th, 2008, 07:30 PM #2
If "transparency" is a goal, it needs to be adequately defined within the context of that goal. As you suggested, Brian, that term seems to be loosely tossed about in a variety of situations.
As an affiliate, I certainly agree with the concept of "individuality" luring me (and others) away from the traditional workforce. It is something I worked toward for several years before it became a viable choice. Along the way I always chose to uphold high ethical standards. However, being naive, because of a lack information (disclosure?) about various networks and programs, led to a couple of poor choices along the way. I believe it was Haiko that suggested more disclosure of terms and actual working metrics by networks. I'm not sure I understood in what context he was suggesting; and, because of confidentiality and proprietary issues, I don't know to what extent disclosure could be delivered. However, I would certainly view any additional information carefully in making choices about which networks, programs and/or merchants with whom to become affiliated.
A dialog has begun, which made the session beneficial for all in attendance. Hopefully, the dialog will continue to the benefit of all in the industry.
(More comments may be added after I unwind from the drive home and review some thoughts with a clear head. )
August 13th, 2008, 07:39 PM #3
August 13th, 2008, 08:13 PM #4
Originally Posted by PetsWarehouse.com
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August 13th, 2008, 08:23 PM #5
August 14th, 2008, 12:30 AM #6
It was a very interesting panel - I agree. Glad I went.
I was pleased to see that there was actual discussion/debate taking place and not just pre-rehearsed Q&A. I am unclear about where eBates stands after that discussion. I know where they stand in my own mind but I am unclear as to what which side of that debate Paul was on, since as I understood it, Paul stated they'd not been redirecting since '01 (as some of you already mentioned) and then also during same discussion said 1% of his user base still use the technology because they like it and that eBates aims to please their users first. Two thoughts came to mind on that:
1. You're still redirecting then, even if only 1% of your user base uses the technology - if that's the case how can it be tested by the Ben Edelman's of the industry and be deemed 100% clean??? Either I'm missing something big here or that is a contradiction if I ever heard one.
2. How many users is 1% of the eBates user base? Potentially TONS.
An interesting point brought forth by someone (can't remember who): Then if only 1% of your user base is using it, doesn't it make sense to cut your losses and phase out that technology entirely, choosing instead to not just SAY eBates is clean but SHOW the industry that eBates is clean to possibly improve the company's reputation amongst affiliate folks in the biz? Can't remember his response but I remember it wasn't anything along the lines of "Great Idea!" Obviously 1% of the eBates member base IS huge, or else they likely would have phased it out entirely by now. Or, the number using that technology is actually far more than just the stated 1%.
I like the idea that someone mentioned about how networks in the UK are working w/ the IAB to set standards and wondering if that's not something we should be working towards here.
That's not to necessarily say all networks and affiliates need to become cookie cutters of one another and voluntarily give up all competitive edge and unique value propositions (?) or even that networks have to work together at all, but there must be a way to come to some sort of agreement within the industry (whether we industry folks come together to set the standard or someone else does eventually which is inevitable - IMHO this is about choosing the lesser of 2 evils). I think these organizations that are being formed (PMA/Affiliate Voice) are a good thing even if it's an (especially) controversial time for our industry. There is strength in numbers and we can make more impact when we band together for change.
In TV/Radio, there are governed advertising standards as to what is and what is not acceptable. There is a governing body which says yea or nay to what can and cannot be done and there are consequences for advertisers in those mediums who do not adhere to policy/standard. Sure, there are envelope pushers in every medium and standards evolve/change with time, but there are consequences for crossing lines, and that's what we're missing.
Transparency is a huge step in this industry but it's not enough. Like Connie said - where are the real consequences for parasitic behaviour? The question is - do we as an industry want to determine the who/what/why/when/where of those consequences by working together, or do continue to work in a vacuum, waiting for the other shoe to drop on the day when something bigger than this industry comes along and decides to dole out consequences of THEIR choosing, for us?
Networks need to have zero tolerance for black hat activity. Merchants need education and probably always will due to turnover and re-org's etc. Networks have all the information AND the tools. We all have to do our part but networks can make the most impact and should.
It's less about what is/isn't ethical since today, since most of us are in agreement as to what is and what is not. It's just more a matter of whether or not companies and individuals care more about ethics or bottom line when faced with the dilemma and what we as an industry plan to do about it.
Just my $0.02.
August 14th, 2008, 01:56 AM #7Originally Posted by e-Gazer
1% of eBates users may be 1,000, 10,000, or 100,000 I don't know off hand. But the question is not the number of users, but the percent of activity that 1% generate. If 1% of their users generate 10% or 15% of the traffic/revenue for eBates they would be hard pressed to eliminate any redirecting of those users who 'like it'.
Originally Posted by e-GazerSomeday starts today
August 14th, 2008, 02:44 AM #8
Liz, your intelligence and clarity of thought impresses me. Well said! Every point you bring up I ditto 100%.
wish I could have been in Boston to participate and be witness to this panel and discussion. It's about time the issue of ethics was brought out into the light and discussed with all parties, including those whose ethics are considered questionable.
I so agree with Liz that networks need to take a firmer governing stand for the exact reasons she mentions: they can see what everyone's doing and they are the only ones in a position of "trusted third party" - which, IMO, means trusted third party for all concerned, including merchants who need as much protection from cheaters and thieves as affiliates do. Merchants need to not only be protected from bad affiliates, they are also at the mercy of hired managers, whether in house or OPMs and many have taken a beating in the past year because of lax enforcement of good business principles and ethics by their hired guns. The networks are the only ones who can see exactly what each and everyone is doing and how they're doing it. Hiding behind the "privacy" card is complete bullsh!t is someone is cheating, stealing or otherwise taking advantage of their position or the ignorance or innocence of another party.
Whether networks can or will work together to create a code of conduct or best practices is up to the networks if they see a benefit to maintaining their trusted third party status. (As Liz mentioned - in the ad biz, there are plenty of "rules" and consequences for breaking those rules). If a network cannot be trusted to protect its members, there is no trusted third party. Networks make money no matter who gets the last cookie and no matter how a sale comes through their links. I think it's time they own up to this responsibility. We all know the networks we trust to protect our interests over network-interest and those we don't. I think it will come down to having a full-time entity (whether a group of people or an individual) in each network policing the waters.
Transparency is a huge crazy-making issue that isn't obvious if one isn't practicing certain aspects of affiliate marketing. Before I got a little bit educated about it, I thought absolute transparency for everyone in bed together was an easy answer. It's really not, for many reasons, although I still think it's an important issue that needs to be defined with more than one defining category.
I'm really sick of hearing about "who is to say what's right and what's wrong."
We all know damn well what's ethical and what's not. We can try to be as PC as we want but it's not going to give our industry a set of standards to work with. If the ad industry can come up with a code of conduct, we certainly can. This has nothing to do with stepping on anyone's individuality or independence, it's about respect for our industry and the people in it.
Can't wait to see the video of this session! I'll probably have to come back and rant s'more after seeing it. LOLPeace,
Loving Everyone's Child Creates Magic
August 14th, 2008, 11:44 AM #9
I have a few thoughts about that session that I'm going to keep to myself for the time being, but let me throw this out:
There is a very large gray area. Very few things are totally black or white. The notion that everything can be boiled down to "this is ethical" or "this is unethical" is as ridiculous as saying that absolutely nothing can be boiled down that way. I say, let's define the edges and then let those edges define the middle. If there's one thing that we can all say "this is an unethical practice", that's one edge. If there's one thing that we can all say "this is an ethical practice", that's the other edge. Let the edges define the middle.Daniel M. Clark
Greg Hoffman Consulting
August 14th, 2008, 12:11 PM #10
All I'm trying to say with the ethical stance is simple ... we want to have a path, let's pave it, put down lanes, build in shoulders in case we need to stop every now and then and even have ditches on the sides so if we do go off track we still don't go to far, or worse over a cliff. This path is now a highway, we don't control what lane you drive in nor much less if you want to speed all that is need is to keep people in the right direction so that if they do get careless or swerve they won't hit on coming traffic and hurt innocent people because of being careless or stupid.
It's really that simple.
BTW Ethics is a word, if you make it mean more than just a word then you really shouldn't have a problem with it being used to describe solution to problem.
[disclaimer] Post not directed at nor to anyone[/disclaimer]
August 14th, 2008, 12:24 PM #11
I am glad I was at this discussion to hear first hand the comments and see the start of a much needed interaction of various sides.
Thank you all for taking the time to participate and to continue to participate. I hope the communication continues to grow and some great new ideas and much needed resolutions come of it.
I am excited to be a part of the future this industry is becoming.
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August 14th, 2008, 01:26 PM #12
The discussion was good and Haiko did his usual awesome job. Trying to define what is and is not ethical that everyone will agree to is useless IMO. The unethical people won't agree that what they're doing is unethical.
But, we need to be able to define what is ethical and what is considered not ethical. If we can't or don't there is no point discussing this. There needs to be some behavior that just is not acceptable, then behavior that is not desirable. If we can't get to that point then everything is ethical isn't it?
This is a topic I expect an organization or association to cover and not dance around it by allowing everyone in so "we can all talk about it", feel good, have campfire songs and monthly hug-a-thug meetings.
I would love to, at the very least, see networks and merchants list certain behaviors they permit and prohibit so it's very easy for all to see. Perhaps checkmarks beside what is and what is not allowed.
Unless I missed it, I didn't hear the answer about the Chinese Wall unless it was tucked in with all the blah-blah-blah. And, saying only 1% of your users have your commission theft software installed means you're still stealing. A thief who only steals 1% of the time is still a thief. I also got the impression EB meant they aren't overwriting other affiliate's cookies IF the affiliate uses &afsrc=1 in their links. Which itself is total BS by putting the burden on the honest affiliate. So if they don't know about this or forgot to use it then it's ok if their commissions are stolen.
August 14th, 2008, 02:03 PM #13
August 14th, 2008, 02:59 PM #14
I'll agree with you that I don't think it is a black and white thing. I would love, however, to hear the rest of your comments and hope you post them soon.
In the meantime, that was part of my point #4 above. The market for Merchants and Networks specifically is full of all kinds of different choices.
One of the more confusing moments for me came when one audience comment, which I believe was directed at my previous comment that we "kick out people who are cloaking/spamming Google". She mentioned that it was not a good solution because that affiliate will just go and join her program on another network.
I apologize to her for not being able to respond to the comment because things got a little confusing at that moment and some other panelists were receiving questions from other audience, etc... I also couldn't quite hear her with all the chatter - so I could have misunderstood - However, I want to go back and watch the video again and hopefully get a better understanding of the point that was being made.
Merchants and Networks all make choices - and they do so with plenty of information available about those choices. The fact that I disagree strongly with Paul (eBates) on much of what was discussed is only relevant in so much as we do not work together. Other Merchants and Networks have made similar decisions - and another group of Merchants and Networks have made opposite decisions.
When it comes to "Ethics in Affiliate Marketing" ... each Affiliate should make a decision regarding the importance of Ethics, as well as where their personal boundaries are.
The Market then provides you with an enormous amount of choice within your comfort zone.
Bringing this all the way back to the audience comment that confused me.... If one of her Networks was making one choice, and another Network was making an opposite choice.... That presents her with a perfect opportunity to determine how important the issue is to her specifically, and whether or not she wants to use the issue to make business decisions about who she works with.
I personally think that is a positive thing because whenever people or companies are presented with viable choices and alternatives, they are better able to grow their businesses in the way that they want.Thanks,
President/CEO - ShareASale.com, Inc.
August 15th, 2008, 11:32 AM #15
Every person in the affiliate industry, whether affiliate or merchant or connected to either, should watch the video of this session once it's available. If you can come to understand all of the nuances, of all that was said, by the different members, you'll be well prepared to navigate yourself towards the right people and orgs that are consistent with your standards and goals and ethics.
My own understanding of these issues, especially how they are postured and defended, was advanced considerably by attending this session.
Honestly, I feel like this was akin to attending a sporting event in one regard, that is, it's the kind of video footage that needs a few commentators, breaking things down and explaining what the individuals were trying to accomplish, perhaps in a play-by-play fashion.
Haiko, I'm glad you chaired this, I think the questions you asked of the panel were right on target and quickly got people talking about the real issues. Those who understand these issues well, know it takes a clever tactician to assemble such a diverse group, one that normally has considerable infighting, yet get them to open up and yap a bunch amongst each other and a room chock full of observers.
It was very much worth my time to attend it, and that's mainly because of how well it was chaired.
August 15th, 2008, 12:49 PM #16
August 15th, 2008, 01:13 PM #17
Daniel - I too agree with you, ethics is not as simple as some would like to think, there is a large gray area. I have other opinions that I will keep to myself about how this session went, but I will state that Angel made a very valid comment when trying to come up with additional solutions to weight clicks. The technology all ready exists, for instance Atlas AdServing all ready provides weighted click reporting to properly distribute credit for the conversion. I am not sure that many would go for a shared revenue model off of click value, but it is an interesting concept and one that deserved more credit and respect then it was given.
August 15th, 2008, 09:52 PM #18
Thanks, Brian and Aunesty. I've been trying to think of how to gather all my thoughts into one cohesive post, but I just can't - I've got too much on my mind and too much work going on! So, I'm going to throw out a few random thoughts in no particular order. Here we go.
The presentation came across more like a college lecture with a guest panel than an audience participation event. Now, there's nothing wrong with that necessarily, but I was personally hoping for more audience back-and-forth with the panel members.
I'm not going to claim to know all the inside details and I'm not going to comment on the events that led up to the final panel being chosen. That said, Kellie Stevens needs to be involved if there's going to be an Ethics panel discussion in Vegas. There's no excuse for her not to be involved short of Kellie herself declining to be involved.
I was extremely put off by Paul Nichols' (Ebates) insinuation that the only reason we all haven't been sued for "interfering with our [his] business" is out of the goodness of his heart. I can't believe nobody called him on that - but then again, I didn't say anything either so I can't really complain . He really did mention several times that anyone who sought to interfere with Ebates' business was opening themselves to a lawsuit. Hopefully, expressing my disgust with that stance won't land me in court.
I'm also not convinced that Paul's assertion that they've been 100% clean for the past 7 years is true. I'm not saying he's lying. What I'm suggesting is that Ebates has had 7 years (of the 10 they've been around) to convince us that they're clean and they've failed miserably because clearly, the reputation is still there. Something is wrong with that. Are they, today, clean? If so, exactly how long have they been clean? If so, why haven't they shaken the reputation that's been plaguing them unnecessarily for 70% of their existence?
No, I suspect that they're not 100% clean (although you'll see in the video that Paul was lawyerly-specific when he said that "Ebates hasn't redirected on affiliate links since 2001". I won't rehash the 1% issue, but I'll say that I agree with those that are suspicious of it.
Brian impressed me as always with his measured, well thought-out responses. He's not one to fly off the handle or start making statements without consideration, and I appreciate that. I agree that the networks should not be beholden to anyone but themselves as far as the idea for a common code goes. Shareasale should not have to lower their standards, other networks should be forced to raise theirs - and by forced, I'm talking about letting the market dictate that, not a third party. As an affiliate, I will always look to promote programs on Shareasale before any other network - and while I may still be a very small fish in a very large ocean, I feel that I'm doing my part to influence the other networks. If more affiliates, merchants and managers acted that way, maybe some change could be affected. Speaking of other networks....
I would like to have a moratorium on the word "transparency" when applied to Pepperjam We get it - Pepperjam is about transparency. What I didn't hear though, was guarantees that Pepperjam itself would be transparent. I understand that we're expected to give up all kinds of information (be us affiliates, merchants or managers) to increase our "transparency score" - but Haiko mentioned Chinese walls and security, and to my recollection, it was rather glossed over by Michael Jones, representing Pepperjam. I think that I might revisit this after watching the video from the session, but this is what's on my mind now, three days later
I disagree with the idea that the industry doesn't need or can't have police. I think we do need police, and that that role is best taken on by the networks. We've seen Shareasale police their own network, and it's resulted in a sterling reputation and a strong business. What we don't need is a third party trying to take that role on - be it the PMA, Voice or any other industry organization that decides to form. The networks need to establish and enforce their own codes of conduct. It's the enforcement that I see as the problem - too many networks give lip service to ethical practices and codes of conduct while allowing cheaters and thieves to flourish because they bring in the big bucks.
I get angry when I hear people say that something technological can't be done. Nothing personal toward Haiko here - anyone could have said it because it's certainly a common idea - but "it would take terabytes of data" was a reason given for not splitting commissions among more than one source. I've got 1.5TB sitting on the desk next to me right now - cost me about $250. We are an industry of geeks, IT pros and technological innovators. If we want to split commissions so that all the sources who helped drive a sale can be compensated we find a way. We create a way to do it. There is nothing - nothing - in the realm of technology that should be used as a reason not to do something. Now, the question of whether or not commissions should be split is completely separate and I'm not going to offer my opinion of it in this thread.
Connie and Chuck were fantastic. Not much more to say! If I think of anything else, I'll certainly post again. Overall, I'd give the session a solid "B". Not mind-blowing, but certainly not a waste of time. I strongly, strongly suggest that this be a regular session at all future Summits.
Last edited by HecticDMC; August 15th, 2008 at 09:56 PM. Reason: forgot my formattingDaniel M. Clark
Greg Hoffman Consulting
August 15th, 2008, 10:03 PM #19
For the Record anyone can submit a proposal to Shawn and Missy for a session in Vegas. They can even be the moderator and pick who they want on the panel.
August 15th, 2008, 10:07 PM #20Originally Posted by HecticDMC
August 15th, 2008, 10:10 PM #21Originally Posted by HecticDMC
August 15th, 2008, 10:20 PM #22
Fair enough, fair enough. It's been three days, so I apologize for making that connection in what you said specifically. It's just that it's not a new argument - the notion that multiple stream tracking would be too hard. I'd have to go to the video to see exactly what was said and how I misinterpreted it, but I can definitely see how I mixed that up. Sorry about that Still, it does make me angry when anyone says something is too technologically difficult
That said, I'm actually for the splitting of commissions into different streams and accommodating multiple sources of a sale, but that's maybe just meDaniel M. Clark
Greg Hoffman Consulting
August 15th, 2008, 10:26 PM #23
Also, If you remember I told Paul to stop with the tortuous activity line.
August 15th, 2008, 10:31 PM #24
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August 15th, 2008, 10:54 PM #25Originally Posted by Haiko de Poel, Jr.
I look forward to seeing the video so I better understand the topics as I have some good thoughts on this topic, but will reserve further comment until I hear the whole video. Thanks to all who participated and thank you to Brian for resurrecting the session with further discussion on this thread.
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