The saying goes that cash is king, but in the CPA marketing game, compliance has become the king of kings. Long gone are the days of slapping Obama or Oprah Winfrey’s mug on an HTML creative and watching a campaign’s conversion rates soar through the roof.

Nowadays, publishers have to walk a fine line in the sands of compliance, because as we all know, sometimes the creative materials supplied by the advertiser just aren’t as good at getting the click as something homemade. My previous life as an email marketer taught me all kinds of tricks to get inboxing and open rates up. The only problem was that most of the time we had to compromise on being compliant. And I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t something that sat well with me. In my mind, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Just waiting for the day one of our larger CPA network partners would come back to us and say, “You’re busted, and now you’re not getting paid. Have a nice day.” And eventually, that happened.

I know a lot of affiliates have had this happen to them, probably more than once. And this bears the question, at what point is running a non-compliant creative worth-it? We all know it’s not a sustainable business model, so why do publishers continue to take these kinds of risks? And this isn’t limited to just the email marketing realm either. Display publishers have their fair share of compliance quandaries as well.

I get it. Yes, advertisers may not catch it for a while. Yes, your open rates will rise. Yes, your conversion rates and EPC’s will increase. But I think what a lot of people need to realize is that there are many ways to run traffic and tweak creative which still get plenty of clicks and conversions without being openly non-compliant. Trust me, I know. I’ve done it.

For those of you who have been in this industry for a while, a lot has changed in terms of what can and cannot be said to the consumer, what constitutes as “misleading”, and where the compliance bar is now set. And at the end of the day, FTC regulations and guidelines aside, I think we all know that it boils down to what is innately right and wrong. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t require a hundred pages worth of legal jargon and clauses to figure it out, and yet I still see publishers willing to risk tens of thousands of dollars in revenue for the short-term return of increased performance. The get-rich-quick schemes are enticing, but they don’t last long. I think we can all agree that the CPA marketing game is no longer a race to the finish but rather a marathon that requires endurance and adaptability.

So what is the amount of risk an affiliate is willing to take? Is it worth risking $10K, $25K, or $50K+? I honestly can’t tell you, but what I can is how embarrassing it feels to get caught versus how great it feels to see increased conversions from creatives that are completely compliant. Being on the front lines as the person who has to work with advertisers to keep payments coming in on traffic they’ve found to be non-compliant, I often wonder if affiliates understand what we, as a network, often have to go through in order to make sure they still get paid.

As much as some publishers would like to dub networks as a necessary evil, networks are often the unsung ninja warriors of their revenue, behind the scenes, fighting the good fight to make sure those checks aren’t withheld or deducted. I’ll admit, it doesn’t always work out in their favor, but we do what we can to go to bat for the publisher even when faced with blatant non-compliance violations.

Affiliate marketers are some of the smartest and most creative people I know, so it stands to reason that they can operate in the harmonious zone between compliant and profitable. Whatever the circumstances or reasoning may be for running anything non-compliant, I know for me and my money, I don’t like to gamble. It may not be the epitome of adrenaline-pumping excitement, but at least it’s the path to a guaranteed paycheck.

Photo by Hervé de Kervasdoué

Join the conversation

  1. anthony qualtiere on

    Not being in the marketing field and going from what I read here. It sounds like there is an incentive problem. If affiliates are rewarded only by the number of conversions then ofcourse they will do whatever it takes to boost those numbers, even if that means entering an ethical grey area. Risk averse affiliates will avoid such behavior but there will always be individuals willing to take those risks in exchange for a higher return, even if it is only for the short term. The problem can be easily solved at the upper management level by tracking and rewarding compliance as well as conversions. Unfortunately implementing a system that evaluates and promotes such specific behaviors is always associated with higher costs for company. So the trade off for the company would be higher compliance for a higher overall cost. The plus side is that implementing a well defined evaluation and reward system that results in higher compliance can also be used as a selling point to advertisers, and by essentially putting out a better product some of the associated cost may be able to be passed on to the advertisers by raising prices.. BOOM!! That’s my two cents

  2. Ben Smith on

    Thanks Anthony for your input. You’re right about there being an incentive problem for affiliates. They are rewarded for creating conversions, and up until recently, not much was done to emphasize that compliancy is a concern of the utmost importance. Affiliates who ignore compliance in lieu of higher conversions usually create major headaches for the Advertisers receiving the customers.

    I haven’t seen any affiliate networks offering incentives or rewards to affiliates who maintain a clean track record with compliancy, but I really like the idea. The most relavant example I can think of is what the auto insurance companies are doing to reward good drivers. All-State offers their customers a cash-back bonus for each six month period they have without an incident. That type of incentive promotes safe driving and benefits everyone.

    I think that offering rewards to affiliates based on higher compliance is a great idea and it merits testing within the industry. I know Advertisers would really benefit and appreciate the added security of compliant marketing campaigns.

    Ben Smith
    CEO @ Diablo Media

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