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  1. #1
    Member esnagel's Avatar
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    How far is too far?
    I was trying to work with a merchant on CJ, but nothing I did seemed satisfactory for them. After reading their lengthy TOS, I registered a domain name with their name in it (NOT against the rules, by the way) and was given 24 hours to remove the site. I complied. (Side note: I found 2 other affiliates with the brand name in their domain name. Those sites are still up & running).

    Then, I was doing some article marketing to get visitors to my site, and the merchant said that was not allowed in their program (who ever heard of a merchant not allowing article marketing???). They probably didn't allow it because the merchant themselves were doing article marketing at the same time.

    That was last June (11 months ago), so I dropped the merchant and was no longer affiliated with them.

    However, I still had organic traffic for the merchant. Customers were looking for coupons, so I changed my outgoing link to point to retailmenot.com's page for that merchant.

    Last week, CJ emailed me accusing me of brand-bidding for that merchant's name on Yahoo. Well first of all, I'm not. And second of all, I'm not in an affiliate relationship with the merchant, so why is CJ reaching out to me about this? After proving my case, they replied with:

    Hello Nigel,

    Previous warning was sent in error, please disregard. We apologize if this caused you any inconvenience
    I responded:

    Where did that come from? I haven't been in the xxxxx program since I removed myself Wed, Jun 17, 2009, and I'm not bidding on their keywords. Finally, my name's not Nigel.
    Still no response.

    Today, 11 months after the merchant and I have stopped working together, CJ emailed me with a "Commission Junction account warning - 15 day notice of termination served" email because my site is linking to RetailMeNot.

    Since when can a merchant dictate who non-affiliates are linking to? I'm not in their affiliate program, so in my opinion, the merchant should shut up and MYOB. There are over 1,000 programs that I haven't joined in CJ. That means there are over 1,000 merchants who can tell me that they don't like how I'm linking to other websites??

    Where is the line drawn? Are affiliates really worthless to CJ & their merchants?

  2. #2
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    Don't assume you can do anything you want unless it's expressly prohibited!
    Personally, I cannot imagine any ethical web publisher believing that it is OK to register a domain name that includes the (non-generic) company or domain name of a merchant (whether you have an advertising relationship with the merchant or not). This is definitely not something you can reasonably believe is "permitted unless expressly prohibited."

    Once you've admitted to this action, which I consider unethical, I must wonder about the potential legitimacy of your other activities. For example, I suspect that your innocent-sounding but non-specific reference to "article marketing" (or your success in attracting organic traffic for particular keywords) might actually turn out to involve activity that I'd consider unreasonable, unethical or inappropriate.

    It does seem unusual that CJ would threaten to terminate your account based on activity that doesn't breach any existing agreements, and I'm generally not surprised by claims that CJ is acting irrationally -- but again your initial admission leads me to suspect that there's more going on here.

    If you choose to "play games" in your business dealings, then you should expect that ALL your business relationships are automatically in jeopardy. And if you play "fast and loose" with your reasonable duty to communicate fairly with advertisers and networks, you should expect that they will not extend you the same level of deference or courtesy that might be expected in their relationships with more reputable publishers.

    My advice: Stop assuming that you can do anything you want if the merchant hasn't expressly prohibited it in their affiliate-program agreement. Instead, if you're engaged in any activities that "many merchants" prohibit, advise your other merchants in advance about your intent to use these practices (ideally, ask for their affirmative permission, to avoid later disputes about whether they really received your notice).
    Last edited by markwelch; May 17th, 2010 at 08:22 PM.

  3. #3
    Member esnagel's Avatar
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    Hey Mark - fine, point taken on the domain name. I figured if there was a 3-page affiliate TOS and this wasn't mentioned, and there were (and still are) affiliates doing this, that the merchant didn't have a problem with it. I was wrong. I admitted it, and I'm not hiding anything. Lesson learned, and I complied with their reasonable request (at the time, I was a member of their affiliate program, so we had a working relationship).

    But what about the actual question I posed? Any insight on that?

  4. #4
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    I'm not sure I really saw any meaningful question in your post. Of course, affiliates are not "worthless to CJ & their merchants."

    As to your question about "why is CJ reaching out to [you] about this," I think the answer is pretty clear: they received a complaint from one of their merchants, and they reviewed it and took action.

    Nobody other than CJ knows whether they actually knew that you no longer had an active relationship with the merchant, nor whether they've received other information leading them to believe that you're not acting in accordance with your agreements (with CJ or with other CJ merchants). Based on both my personal experience and many years of ABW-members' reported experience with CJ, you should NOT expect any meaningful communications from CJ. And even if they don't terminate you in 15 or 30 days, don't be surprised if they later terminate your account anyway. You're probably more likely to receive "more attention and consideration" from CJ if one of your merchants were willing to intercede (presumably expressing concern about the unpleasant prospect of losing their successful relationship with you).

  5. #5
    ABW Ambassador Daniel M. Clark's Avatar
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    Mark, I think you're way - way - off base. It might be your opinion that using a merchant's name in a URL is unethical, but the fact is, that's just your opinion. If a merchant doesn't want an affiliate to use their name, they need to expressly prohibit it. To say that affiliates should be expected to have a prohibited-unless-allowed attitude is ridiculous. It's the other way around. If the merchants don't prohibit something, it's fair game (unless it's illegal, of course).

    We can argue ethics all day, but at the end of the day, merchants need to take responsibility for their programs.
    Daniel M. Clark
    Tech Manager
    Greg Hoffman Consulting

  6. #6
    Member esnagel's Avatar
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    Thanks Mark - that's what I was looking for. I'm surprised about 2 things:

    1) That CJ will take action against an affiliate based on the word of a merchant, if that merchant & affiliate have no relationship

    2) That the CJ Network Quality team can't pick up the phone & talk to an affiliate.

  7. #7
    ABW Ambassador Daniel M. Clark's Avatar
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    And Eric is a respected member of this industry. Saying that all his activities are suspect simply because your opinion is that he shouldn't use a merchant's name (when it's not prohibited) doesn't make you look very good.
    Daniel M. Clark
    Tech Manager
    Greg Hoffman Consulting

  8. #8
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    I agree with Mark about using a merchant's trademark in a domain name (but my agreement ends there). Just because the TOS doesn't prohibit it, doesn't give an affiliate free reign to violate trademark law. I would not recommend that any affiliate use a merchant's trademark in a domain name, otherwise you risk losing that domain to the merchant. It's a relatively simple process, in which the merchant has a very high chance of prevailing.

    Now after making that honest mistake (and I believe that's what it was), you're naturally going to be under much closer scrutiny from the merchant (and CJ). They've seen you do one thing wrong, and they're going to be watching much closer. Most problem affiliates never change. (Case in How many parasites do you know who have cleaned up their act?)

    In think in your case, the subsequent problems have been unfair and erroneous. How you get traffic to your own site (within reason) should not matter. What sites you link to from your site shouldn't matter either. And it certainly should be reason enough for CJ to terminate you.

    But I must ask... Why in the world would you link to RetailMeNot? Surely there are better choices than that.
    Michael Coley
    Amazing-Bargains.com
     Affiliate Tips | Merchant Best Practices | Affiliate Friendly? | Couponing | CPA Networks? | ABW Tips | Activating Affiliates
    "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

  9. #9
    ABW Ambassador Daniel M. Clark's Avatar
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    You know, after thinking about it a bit, I can definitely see how what I wrote could come off as overly harsh to Mark. That wasn't my intent, honest. I apologize if some of my word choices were overly aggressive.

    Back to your regularly scheduled programming
    Daniel M. Clark
    Tech Manager
    Greg Hoffman Consulting

  10. #10
    Prince of Content Vinny O'Hare's Avatar
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    I was wondering why you would link out to Retailmenot also. I can see a newbie AM seeing that and thinking you were affiliated with them.
    Vinny O'Hare - OPM - Contact Info email: vinny at teamloxly.com ~ 702-582-6742 Twitter

  11. #11
    Defender of Truth, Justice and the Affiliate Way
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    I'm putting all the prior stuff to the side in my response.

    Have you checked the RTMN site to see if they indeed have an affiliate partnership with the merchant? Not all of the merchants on their site have a partnership. I've come across a few merchants who did not accept RTMN into their program for various reasons. They didn't particularly want their stores being promoted on RTMN, but since there was no partnership they couldn't do much about it. I'm thinking that possibly the merchant has an issue with RTMN and since you are linking to them.......

    Is it right that CJ should threaten you with termination for linking to another affiliate site for a merchant you aren't partnered with? IMO, no. But life is crazy and many things aren't "right". And CJ's TOS have been crafted carefully by the CJ legal team. They have the right to terminate for any reason they want.

    What seems to be apparent is that CJ is placating this particular merchant (for whatever reason). I've seen some crazy stuff come out of compliance departments over the years (not just CJ).

    If you have merchant partnerships you value on CJ, my suggestion is that you get CJ on the phone (preferrably your account manager if you have one). Make sure it isn't some kind of "mistake" like the TM bidding. If linking to RTMN is really the issue, it seems you have a choice to make. Leave the link up and risk losing your CJ account (not that you can't probably reapply, but that's a pain) or change the page. If the merchant is important enough to CJ, they may well accomodate them as long as the RTMN link is up.

  12. #12
    Defender of Truth, Justice and the Affiliate Way
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    Oh and just an FYI. In the past, CJ hasn't been too keen on specific compliance issues being posted publicly. I've seen more than one affiliate threatened with termination for posting a compliance tale in a public venue, particularly when copy/paste of communications were included. At least one that comes readily to my mind that ended up with a termination.

    Just saying.

  13. #13
    Member esnagel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey View Post
    But I must ask... Why in the world would you link to RetailMeNot? Surely there are better choices than that.
    Quote Originally Posted by Vinny O'Hare View Post
    I was wondering why you would link out to Retailmenot also.
    They happened to be the first site I found that had a coupon.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kellie aka Ms. B View Post
    Have you checked the RTMN site to see if they indeed have an affiliate partnership with the merchant?
    Yes, they do.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kellie aka Ms. B View Post
    If you have merchant partnerships you value on CJ, my suggestion is that you get CJ on the phone (preferrably your account manager if you have one). Make sure it isn't some kind of "mistake" like the TM bidding. If linking to RTMN is really the issue, it seems you have a choice to make. Leave the link up and risk losing your CJ account (not that you can't probably reapply, but that's a pain) or change the page. If the merchant is important enough to CJ, they may well accomodate them as long as the RTMN link is up.
    I've taken the link down completely. Unfortunately for my users, as I rank (naturally) for this merchant's name & "coupon" and users will get to my site and not find what they're looking for. I guess I'll lose that ranking.

    What worries me is that a merchant that I'm not affiliated with can control what I put on my website, solely because I'm affiliated with another merchant within the network. Think about this for a minute - how could this impact your websites?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kellie aka Ms. B View Post
    Oh and just an FYI. In the past, CJ hasn't been too keen on specific compliance issues being posted publicly. I've seen more than one affiliate threatened with termination for posting a compliance tale in a public venue, particularly when copy/paste of communications were included.
    That would be unfortunate. Affiliates need a voice, too.

    I've calmed down slightly since last night, complied 100% with their request, and will spend today focusing on what I can control, and not issues like this.

  14. #14
    OPM/Moderator Hectic GHC's Avatar
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    Eric,

    This too shall pass. You are a well respected affiliate and I'm happy to have you in my programs. As you said, you have done what you could to rectify the problem and it's time to move on and ignore that merchant. Lessons learned.
    Greg Hoffman
    Affiliate Marketing Advocate of the Year 2016; Best OPM/Agency - 2014; Best OPM/Agency, Five Years in a Row - ABestWeb.
    Visit Greg Hoffman Consulting

  15. #15
    ABW Ambassador Joshua's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by esnagel View Post
    2) That the CJ Network Quality team can't pick up the phone & talk to an affiliate.
    Everything needs to be in writing due to legal issues. Advertisers even have a hard as hell time talking to the network quality team by phone, and that is usually only to help provide clarification of an existing documented issue.

    I can tell you that I only know of one case where an affiliate was actually able to speak with a network quality rep, and that was a really lucky break based on a really lucky connection between the affiliate and the network quality rep.

  16. #16
    ABW Ambassador Daniel M. Clark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joshua View Post
    Everything needs to be in writing due to legal issues.
    And yet when someone has a problem with ShareASale, they can get on the phone with the CEO to work it out.

    That's a pretty poor justification of bad customer service, Joshua. I've never in my life heard of a company that will not provide customer service because everything needs to be in writing.
    Daniel M. Clark
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    Greg Hoffman Consulting

  17. #17
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    I see a lot of value in having paper trails when fraud is suspected.
    Michael Coley
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    "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

  18. #18
    ABW Ambassador ladidah's Avatar
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    A lot of companies who do handle customer service over the phone let you know that the calls are recorded and that pretty much does the same as a paper trail. The issue is to make sure the person you are speaking to is indeed the person who is the account owner. Telephone numbers can be spoofed, Caller Ids can be faked and lots of times people call from cell phones, unlisted phones, etc. There is probably more chance of fraud. With email you have the email or domain name email that is listed on the account or login id for messages.

  19. #19
    Moderator bibby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel M. Clark View Post
    Mark, I think you're way - way - off base. It might be your opinion that using a merchant's name in a URL is unethical, but the fact is, that's just your opinion. If a merchant doesn't want an affiliate to use their name, they need to expressly prohibit it. To say that affiliates should be expected to have a prohibited-unless-allowed attitude is ridiculous. It's the other way around. If the merchants don't prohibit something, it's fair game (unless it's illegal, of course).

    We can argue ethics all day, but at the end of the day, merchants need to take responsibility for their programs.
    I agree. My site is a forum and if I post a deal like 10% off at xxxx.com, then xxx.xom would be in a subfile of the main domain (in the url). I do review merchant TOS to ensure they don't prohibit that use. 90% of CJ TOS include PPC, SEO and website url policies in regard to domain usage.

    Many don't prohibit it. I do ereach out to merchants if I have questions.

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