What do voucher codes and brand bidding have in common? Answer – they all seem to be at the root of some of the current ructions in affiliate marketing:

Code Sites – Reasons to be Cheerful
Discount Codes – What’s the Etiquette?
Voucher Sites! Oh So Much Hard Work
Dodgy Bidder Name and Shame
Am I a Dodgy Bidder?
No Means No – Not Yes When Nobody Is Looking

Sadly this list could go on and on!

At present it seems that the only people policing “issues” that arise in the voucher code or brand bidding sectors are the affiliates themselves. That can be a good thing when done properly and above board (i.e. the facts are factual), but that can bring its own problems.

1. No one likes being outed by a fellow affiliate and that can cause animosity.
2. Affiliates sometimes get it wrong and/or don’t have access to all the facts.
3. Any justification an affiliate has in raising an issue against another affiliate can often be glossed over as “jealousy” or “pettiness”.
4. Not all affiliates actually care and see anything and everything in AM as simply fair game!

The simple fact is it should not be down to affiliates to monitor and police the activity of their competitors! The Wild West atmosphere with a few vigilantes is in need of a Sheriff!

So, who should be Sheriff?

Well, it’s the merchants and networks who have the terms and conditions in place. They’re the ones who tell affiliates what they can and can’t do – and it’s therefore their responsibility to make sure everything is done above board and that terms are implemented. However, I do feel that networks and merchants don’t take this aspect of affiliate marketing that seriously. In fact, I’d go as far as to question “do networks/merchants really care whether there’s an issue between affiliate and affiliate”?

If an affiliate is caught using iframes, using voucher codes they shouldn’t have or brand bidding – what happens? To me it seems that nothing happens – because why else do these issues continue to roll on? Even when an affiliate is caught, whilst they may have to change their ways, they’ve still gone and pocketed the loot. It’s like robbing a bank and being told on the way out “Now that’s a naughty thing to do – but here’s your swag for you to spend”!

There’s no disincentive in place to stop affiliates breaking or bending or pushing the rules. Imagine if an affiliate caught using iframes or brand bidding when they shouldn’t be actually risked not just getting a slapped wrist, but had their commissions withheld and their account terminated? And imagine if that event was then publicised on a network for all to see, including other networks who could then take their own stances.

I doubt that would happen though – and the reason is quite simple – even merchants and networks can’t get their own policing right (Am I a Dodgy Bidder?)!

Unfortunately voucher code issues and PPC issues will rumble on and on, but affiliate marketing needs a solution!

With PPC problems I’d like to see all those involved (networks, affiliates and merchants) go into a room, lock the door and not be allowed to leave until past and present problems have been sorted out. Regardless of who’s done what and when, get it in the open, be transparent and then move forward with networks and merchants working together to make sure the naughty PPC-ers are removed.

With code issues – to my mind this will descend towards chaos with ethical affiliates becoming unethical in order to compete on the same level unless something is done soon. Perhaps another affiliate could take legal action against those who don’t have the same netiquette standards? I do wonder what the legal situation (apart from expensive) would be if an affiliate site could prove they’re losing revenue due to another affiliate’s misuse of their code(s) and the network not taking action to support them? Could site scraping be evidence of copyright infringement too? Anyway I digress!

In both cases it’s time for networks and merchants to stand up and take responsibility as these are meant to be the days of the defining the professionalism of the industry. Start making those terms and conditions clearer (and findable on your login areas) and start taking those affiliates, no matter how big or small, to task when the time is right and importantly your facts are right too.