Teenagers, Ethics and Affiliate Marketing

Call me a grumpy old man but I’ve long been disturbed by some of the trends I see in affiliate marketing. Two in particular: the use of teenagers as affiliate ‘mules’ and the dismissing if not dehumanising view taken of customers.

Like many of you, I am a member of a lot of forums relating to affiliate marketing, many of which have excellent content and good attitudes towards the business we are in. However two in particular stand out where I am struck by the apparent proponderance of what seem to be teenage kids doing affiliate marketing as a way to make a quick buck. In fact you only need to take a glance at sites like Wicked Fire (with its frequent ‘boobs’ posts) and GoDadday (with its ‘GoDaddy’ girls) to realise that soft porn is being used to attract members and given the traditional target market for this kind of material it seems fair to assume that a large slice of the membership is made up of teenage boys.

These kids very much take a ‘screw you’ attitude towards their own customers (and indeed other forum posters) and it seems to me this is pretty common. On these ‘kids’ forums I often come across discussions where some action is being taken against unscrupulous practices (using Oprah for endorsements, knowingly hawking uncancellable rebills, selling illegal if not harmful pills) and the kids on there either get in a flap or try to out ‘cool’ each other about whether they are going to get caught up in these sweeps. Obviously I can’t be sure of the age of the anonymous posters but believe me, “dude” you can tell a lot from the “wicked” attitudes and “lame” use of language. These attitudes and also displayed in other typical posts on these forums, such as the often appearing complaint that some other webmaster has had their site taken down for copyright theft, along with a request for advice on how best to take revenge. Now I can imagine this sort of thing is irritating but surely if you are going to engage in copyright theft then the correct response is that you are occasionally going to get caught out and to accept this – rather than the immature reaction of believing you are entitled to do whatever you want and wanting to ‘get’ someone back when all they’ve done is take some modest and reasonable action to stand up for their rights.

These kids do understand the internet and they effectively have a lot of power as well. In the last year I’ve seen two campaigns in which forum members have successfully been encouraged to join in with cyber bullying campaigns, where someone’s real-world name is linked with defamatory posts intended to permanently ruin their reputation. In at least one case, this was because the telesalesman concerned had apparently been rude to someone on the phone. Now I am not really in a position to judge whether these people actually did anything awful enough to deserve the ruination that has been heaped upon them but given the narcissitic attitudes displayed by many of these teenagers I suspect not.

From a grumpy old man perspective I could leave it there and simply have a moan about the youth of today. However what really strikes me about this is that there are probably adults behind this making a s**t load of money out of these kids. It’s clear to me that if I want to sell some product that’s going to need some heavily dodgy advertising such as false claims and faked endorsements, one way I can distance myself from these activites is by setting up a boob-laden affiliate programme and getting a load of teenage kids who don’t give a monkeys about legal implications to set up the dodgy websites on my behalf. That way, when the excrement hits the fan, the damaged party or parties only have kids to take action against (which they probably won’t) leaving me to walk away with all the profits I’ve made – especially as I can be ‘shocked’ by the tactics used by these adolescent publishers and do the right thing by refusing to honour (i.e. keeping for myself) any outstanding payments to them.

Of course this is just one example of the kind of behaviour that I see reflected all over the internet. Overall I am in favour (how could I not be since I make my living on it) but I do think that the anonymity of the internet often brings out the worst in us and encourages behaviour that within a smaller and less anonymous social environment would not be tolerated or engaged in for fear of getting caught and effectively shunned.

The answer? I don’t have one. But to take my small step towards bucking the trend I’d just like to publicly state that while I realise I could probably make more money by engaging in what I view as unethical practices I actually don’t want to. As a result I don’t do rebills, I don’t do porn and I don’t do pills. I sell products that I think people genuinely want and that I would be happy to buy myself. Obviously I want to make money but I’m not in the business of lying to honest but occasionally gullible or naive prospective customers then sniggering with my forum buddies afterwards about how stupid they are (and implicitely how clever and superior we are).

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2 Responses to “Teenagers, Ethics and Affiliate Marketing”

  1. Mike Says:

    I would just like to say ” Bravo ” , I agree 100%, I am just starting in affiliate marketing myself and I am ranting on my blog “The Starving Affiliate” at blogspot about all of the scams and hype thrown out all over the web. (when I searched for the name of my blog nothing turned up , sorry).

    I am over 45 and can see what you are saying about how some of theses businesses could be using teenagers to market very questionable products and at the same time giving real affiliates a bad name.

    I also refuse to promote any products that I would not purchase myself, including pills, porn and the likes.

    It seems to me that the internet has grown to be a very corrupted place, where people will do and say almost anything to make a quick dollar or click through.

    Anyway, I don’t have the answer either, but I just wanted you to know that you are not alone in feeling this way and sorry again that I picked a name for a blog that was this similar to yours (if it’s a problem for you, please let me know). – Mike

    • starvingaffiliate Says:

      Hi Mike

      Thanks for the comment. I originally set up this blog in a wild pique of anger at the world in general and haven’t really done a great deal to promote it or even post on it but it’s certainly good to hear there’s at least one other fellow ‘grumpy old man’ out there who is in the business but none-the-less views aspects of it with some distaste.

      Good luck with your own blog.

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