Is Affiliate Marketing Out of Control?

The last few days I have been getting a lot of spam from other affiliates of one of the merchants I run. I did not sign up for these emails and unsubscribing has done no good.

I contacted the merchant in question and this is the response I got back:

“This has me concerned, we have third party CPA networks running this offer, and I guarantee that it is these companies that are guilty. I can contact them and attempt to have them remove you of the list; however, this is going to be very difficult due to the nature that these CPA companies that are guilty of sending these emails to you are covered under an umbrella agreement from the parent CPA Company. How did they get your offer? What do you suggest I do?

Please let me know, I want to make sure that I don’t hurt our relationship.”

This tells me that merchants have no idea who is promoting them or how they are doing it. They are farming out their marketing efforts to other parties who then get someone else to run the offers. So they can try to see about removing me from the list because I complained, what about the other people getting this spam? Instead of complaining I can make a spam complaint to the FTC, or other people might.

Isn’t this dangerous in this day and age where merchants are being sued for the actions of their affiliates? If I were a merchant and this was happening to me, I would be more concerned about legal issues than just hurting the relationship with one affiliate.

Has affiliate marketing gotten out of control? Many merchant affiliate programs I belong to have thousands of affiliates. They have no way of policing this many affiliates. While there are many honest and ethical affiliates, there are also many more shady players. Many merchants are on auto approval for their applications, anyone can get in.

Maybe the time has come for merchants to take back control of their programs. Maybe they need to go on manual approval and have fewer affiliates. I think it is time to clean house. Merchants also need to be more careful in their outside marketing efforts, and not let others who have a financial interest be in control. They don’t care how your offers are promoted, they just want to make money.

Merchants need to start protecting their brands and their companies. There are good affiliates out there; it should be about quality, not quantity.

About Connie Berg

Connie Berg is the Founder of and Founded in 1998, offers discounts and coupons from online retailers, while focuses on price comparison and product search. is a new venture which offers an automated, customized affiliate coupon feed which consolidates coupons and deals across all major affiliate networks in a standard format. You can find Connie on Twitter @connieberg.

11 Responses to Is Affiliate Marketing Out of Control?

  1. > Maybe the time has come for merchants to take back control of their programs.

    That time came back in about 1999, but so many affiliate managers realized that their out of touch bosses got a kick out of the sheer number of affiliates.

    Since then, some affiliate managers have scaled back, but I think a lot more house cleaning is in order.

    It's a matter of quality control, brand protection and simply obeying the law (the FTC isn't going to cut slack because you didn't realize an affiliate criminal was in your program).

  2. Connie Berg says:

    The sad thing is that some merchants lump all affiliates together and end up quitting their affiiate programs because of the actions of a few out of control affiliates. I have lost some good merchants this way.

    I don’t want to see merchants dropping programs, or dropping me, but do want them to scale things back and take control.

    Not all affiliates are bad, that point needs to be made. So many times I see negative commments about affiliate marketing and the unethical affiliates give all of us a bad name.

  3. Beth Kirsch says:

    Not all CPA networks are bad, but some need much more control. And not all emailers are bad, but I would tell that merchant only a fool lets anyone mail their offer without transparency. I understand the need for numbers as well as anyone, but point out the CAN-SPAN fines to the merchant. That would be 10k an email btw!

    Feeling feisty tonight.


  4. Kris Bickell says:

    What amazes me is that affiliates are basically a sales force – if someone offline hired a sales force, wouldn't the merchant want to know who they hired? Train them? Monitor them?

    Guess not.

  5. Connie Berg says:

    James, I didn't join any mailing list. These were spams from the merchant through some CPA network. When I used the unsubscribe link in the emails, I just got more. They are still coming. I was forwarding them to the merchant and will start forwarding them to the FTC.

  6. SandraR says:

    I understand the need for numbers as well as anyone, but point out the CAN-SPAN fines to the merchant. That would be 10k an email btw!


    Also point out the state fees and penalties; Arkansas is an additional $300 an email.

    If loosing money is not an incentive to policing your affiliates, perhaps a black mark next to your brand will encourage many merchants to keep a watchful eye.

    I am still having issues with NEW Affiliate Managers that immediately kick out all affiliates that have not made a sale in 1 month (what about a new sign-ups?).

    How about the Affiliate Managers who send threatening email to introduce themselves? (These people are a piece of work)

    In short this is a business which needs to be conducted as a Bricks and Mortar and to do less is irresponsible.

  7. patrice says:

    I know I sound like a broken record, but there’s a two-word response to this whole issue: compliance checks. Not that they fix the problem, but they certainly help identify it.

  8. James Dorans says:

    Well this is a clear sign of a lack of communitcation between merchants, affiliates and the third party provider. Which Shawn has stated in the past.

    I am the manager of an affiliate program and took my lumps. We are trying to scale the situation. Besides bogus affiliates which there are many bombarding the networks. Merchants do not help out that well unless you badger them to do so.

    To Connie all third party programs I know of have an opt out list. Do you know which programs you joined?

  9. Scott Rewick says:

    Seems like merchants are demanding much more than just a partner ID from affiliate networks in an attempt to identify quality of leads. While a parter ID may help quantify quality by partner, it doesnt look at how that lead is generated (adware vs spyware vs banner vs spam). So much of the volume of leads have been concentrated amongst a small group of CPA networks that they havent been forced to open their kimono up more. Should get interesting!

  10. Connie,
    I agree with your opinion on less is more in Affiliate Marketing.

    Kris Bickell made this point in his post

    "if someone offline hired a sales force, wouldn't the merchant want to know who they hired? Train them? Monitor them?"

    This is a good point but most sales forces know the same fact that Merchants do, you have to run through a lot of bad affiliates before you get a Super Affiliate. Sales forces have one Superstar who manages to outpace everyone else and sell 3 or 4 times as much as everyone around him or her. I believe that merchants would be better off increasing their return on each affiliate and downplay the importance of thousands of affiliates. The day will come when most affiliate programs will shed off the chafe and find true success with those "superstars". Until then we can expect a lot more Spam in our e-mail boxes around Christmas time.

  11. I often get the same spam from more than one affiliate, sometimes from the same network. It just seems there is no end, and since there are multiple networks running the same offer, these folks that are busted just move to a different network or change accounts. Until a lot of these folks get slapped with HEFTY fines, I don’t think the issue wil get much attention.