A Reply to Anne Kadet’s “A Penny for Your Clicks?”

From the first four words of the first sentence of Anne Kadet’s SmartMoney May 2, 2008 article entitled “A Penny for Your Clicks?” I could tell it was not going to be a fair and balanced piece of journalism. There are numerous areas to which I could take issue; however, I’ll address three broad ones specifically.

The negative tone.

The article is clearly written from a negative point of view. Note the absence of positive examples from the Affiliate Summit. For example, Kadet writes as if this event began with a drunken boozefest (actual Meet Market time was noon to 6:00 pm with a 1 hour networking cocktail following). Her “Jacuzzi party at the Palms Hotel” statement was out of context. As stated on the official agenda, it was a private event — and for the record the jacuzzi pool is about 12 inches deep and overlooks an open aired view of the Las Vegas strip on an outdoor deck area. (Kadet also fails to note any of the educational sessions or even the 2nd Annual Gospel Brunch put on by the Christian Affiliate Marketing Association.)

Kadet’s quotes from Affiliate Summit keynote speaker Jason Calacanis, while technically accurate, are clearly taken out of context. His “whopper of an opening line” statement, while offensive to some, was nevertheless part of his show and something for which he is known by industry-insiders. (Watch Calacanis’ whole keynote presentation here.) He was preaching to the choir and not trying to destroy the industry. He knew most of those in his audience did not have a “Lex Luthor mind-set.”

The “talking down” attitude.

Kadet defines affiliate marketing as a “mom-and-pop sliver of the online advertising business” and states that “most participants are regular folks who work from home.” I would argue that affiliate marketing is much more than this and is not just the profession of “regular folks” but includes many Fortune 500 companies and media conglomerates. Many in affiliate marketing are brands in themselves and are larger than the companies they market for.

I’ve got to take issue with this as well. Just because somebody works from home doesn’t mean they are insignificant or somehow less than qualified. Many large companies are outsourcing work to contractors and allowing their employees to telecommute. It’s efficient. It saves resources. Hey, it’s even green.

And one more thing. Just because Kadet can become a Wal-Mart affiliate over her lunch hour doesn’t make it a questionable activity. Likewise, one can open a retirement account or even get married over the lunch hour. Does that make these events insignificant? Poor argument on her part.

The poor examples.

Kadet is correct that there are lots of shams in affiliate marketing. The same is true about sales reps in any industry I can think of. Calacanis correctly pointed out these problems at Affiliate Summit and chided the industry for putting up with it. He urged affiliates to “think big” and pursue excellence.

Kadet stated that “it’s tough to earn affiliate-marketing cash the honest way.” That’s true. Earning cash the honest way is also tough for every business I’m aware of and that’s why 90% plus businesses fail. A 3 week test with a few blog ads is not sufficient for Kadet to dump on the industry.

One final thing about poor examples. Kadet’s admission to signing up under her dog’s name might be funny but it is a sure way to doom oneself to failure. I think it amounted to a subconscious admission that she wasn’t going to make any money. Think about this with me. A dog’s name may be a fine login but to claim it as her name on the application is being dishonest. (Remember, she’s the one chiding the industry as being dishonest.) In reality, using a non-legal name becomes a troublesome legal problem when it comes time to deposit checks and pay income taxes.

Conclusion.

I don’t mind honest critiques of the affiliate marketing industry. Instead, I welcome them. We need more transparency and self-control. Those who are unethical need to be rooted out and exposed. Likewise, it would be wise for merchants to more rigorously evaluate their affiliate applicants. Such a scenario would move us closer to the ideal. This article, though, in my opinion, does not move us in that direction. Instead, it unfairly paints everyone in affiliate marketing with a wide and dirty brush.

Please note for the record: I have been an affiliate marketer for almost 10 years and am the founder and president of Shopping-Bargains.com, LLC. I attended Affiliate Summit West 2008. I am also on the Affiliate Summit advisory board. These comments and opinions are mine alone.

About Mike Allen

Founder of Shopping-Bargains.com, LLC, a coupon and deal source featuring nearly 2000 merchant partners in the US, UK and Canada. Recipient of the Affiliate Summit Pinnacle Awards 2009 Affiliate of the Year. Learn more about my 10+ years in affiliate marketing and my other projects at MikeAllen.me.
You can find Mike on Twitter: @mta1.

  • Scott

    I totally agree, the article was only written to further the negative opinion people have towards affiliate marketing. Definitely not productive.

  • Todd Crawford

    Well written Mike. Fortunately most people who read her article will not even understand what she is talking about. Can’t wait to run into to her at the Boston event.

  • http://www.cumbrowski.com/ Carsten Cumbrowski

    Hehe… Nobody was posting during the past days and now did Mike beat to the response of this article.

    Well, mine took longer to write :) (just teasing you). seriously, I think that the two posts compliment each other.

    The tone by the author is on purpose the way it was for today’s article. I referred to the list of articles that she wrote prior to this one (incl. link). This seems to be the columns concept. The column where the article is published under is called “Tough Customer”. Go figure.

    You can debate about it as much as you like. It depends on your taste and if she writes about you or somebody else, However, complaining and ranting are one thing, but taking things out of context, making assumptions based on little to none information and experience and build one on top of the other to form a picture about something that is completely distorted and far off the reality is another one and not acceptable.

    I commented at the SmartMoney website and also sent an email to the editors of the magazine.

    I also added references to yours and Shawn Collin’s post about this article in my post here at RN.

    Cheers!
    Carsten

  • http://www.missyward.com Missy Ward

    Mike, I couldn’t agree with you more. When I read the article yesterday I was confused and outraged. But after reading some of her previous articles, it seems that she approached them, the way she did this hatchet job.

    I vented in my video here: http://missyward.com/?p=38.

    I have to believe that she’s not as arrogant as she came off in the article.

    Hopefully she won’t be as lazy as she was with this article when it’s time to print her retraction ;-)

  • http://www.experienceadvertising.com Evan

    Ya its a pretty poorly written article by someone that obviously knows nothing about affiliate marketing and how pervasive and powerful it is. Referring to affiliate marketing as .."a sliver of the online advertising business…", they clearly don't grasp the broad reach of affiliate marketing on the web and with large websites. But let "them" keep thinking affiliate marketing isnt huge…

  • http://www.paulsonmanagementgroup.com Heather Paulson

    I find Anne Kadet’s negative article went over the line concerning her emotional bias that was clearly being expressed through her content as a complete misunderstanding of the channel and online marketing in general.

    As an example her article is entitled “A Penny for your clicks” she is expressing a cost per click (CPC) based model as a reference in her article title and her article content is associated with primarily cost per acquisition (CPA) driven based advertising attacks… Someone should clue her in on that…

    We should consider however that this online marketing world is highly technical; acronym riddled, and mis-understood by many who do not have the technical tenacities that are required for true conceptualization of the online channels and its potentials. People like Anne Kadet peek into this world and show fear, irreverence, and animosity based on their inability to comprehend its complexities and the people who drive it.

    Cheers,

    Heather Paulson

  • http://fieldsmarshall.com/ Fields Marshall

    She said she ran ads on her blog for three weeks without earning a cent.

    Looks like she needs to work on her blog a bit more and then write an article..

  • http://www.megamarketingreviews.com Rex Turner

    Is it possible that she is just trying to make a name for herself with negativity typical of the media? This kind of "reporting" sells newspapers and television news.

    Afterall, we all seem to know her by name now!

    I for one intend to now forget her and get back to work!

    Thanks,

    Rex

  • http://www.abestweb.com kevin knapp

    Most affiliate revenue is generated through loyalty/software affiliates, coupon affiliates (some play honest, most plays dishonest — via cookie stuffing, tricking consumers that there is actually a coupon when there's none, etc.), trademark bidders and domain squatters. There are very few affiliates who are generating revenues via solid content and by adding value to their merchant partners and they represent the "small minority" not the bad guys.

    Utilization of the datafeeds of merchants' products paved the way to enormous amount of Internet spam among people who calls them affiliates. They have created millions, (billions?) of web pages, that are nothing but clone of the online stores they work with. So, it’s a fact that general Internet Spam and search engine spam is rampant among people who call themselves affiliates.

    If you have good content and good traffic, you charge for advertising then use affiliate marketing for additional revenue if you know how. If you can't get money for your page views, if you can't get sponsors, if you can't charge per click, then you accept commission-based structure to make money with your website. That makes it "bottom of the food chain".

    Anne Kadet's article is bad; sloppily written without much insight, and with a clear negative point of view. As Todd Crawford said, most people who read it will not realize what she's talking about.

    Last month she wrote about Upromise, mentioning their $31 million revene in 2007:
    http://www.smartmoney.com/toughcustomer/index.cfm

    Someone who has even little journalism in her would have find out and point out that an important part of their revenue is generated via affiliate marketing. However, her claims are not baseless.

    The real "hatchet job" to our industry was and is being done by people who are trying to represent affiliate marketing in general with their names and their companies every chance they get. Those who have worked with notorious spammers, then switced to affiliate marketing bringing their questionable judgements to our industry, by dirtying he mud for everyone. Those who, in the name of a bigger tent and more money, brought every CPA spammer to our industry. And by those industry forefront personalities, who see the blatant rip off of honest affiliates by loyaltyware/software affiliates and say or do nothing about although they have enough power to do so, in order to further their careers. And those who knew and stated these facts before, then went on the work with them on their sites.

    There are great people in this industry and there are many questionable people. What ticks is me is those who do the “inside hatchet job” coming to “defend” affiliate marketers in cases like this. That’s what bullshit is.

  • http://www.shopping-bargains.com/ Mike Allen

    Kevin, I'm confused. Are you saying that those who have commented on this post are defending the scum in our industry? I personally know most who have commented here and am quite sure none would defend the polluters within our industry. Instead, we seek more transparency and high ethical standards within affiliate marketing.

    I know there are cookie stuffers, spammers, datafeed abusers, scrapers and other unsavory types within affiliate marketing. I am not and do not defend these practices. To the extent that these practices define our industry hurts us all just like a few slimy car salesmen hurt the auto industry.

    In light of some negative perceptions within our space, I argue that those who are honest must do more than merely pursue the higher paths of excellence. Instead, we must build trust. A good start is to create quality solutions for people (and not merely content for bots). Of course we must never deceive. Give a "bakers dozen" instead of just the minimum expected – that builds goodwill. Reinvest profits. Think long-term. Offer real customer service and support. Become a trusted brand in our own right. The list goes on.

    We can do this and lift up our industry. And even if things are as bad as Anne Kadet suggests, we can be a trusted haven within our circle of influence. Let's do it!

  • http://www.christianaffiliatemarketers.com Wade Tonkin

    Thanks for the mention Mike.

    I really don't know where she gets off on painting us all with this broad brush. Yeah – there are some sleazy operators, but to my knowledge – most of us who are active in the community and Summit look to expose them when we can.

    Most of the people that I have met and choose to associate with in the business are top notch folks who work hard for their cash and add value as much as they can.

  • http://www.affiliate17.com Affiliate17

    Great Post!