Besides the attractive aspects, the affiliate marketing also has an ugly side that not many marketers talk about.
We all love affiliate marketing because it enables us to earn money without having our own products, we don’t have to deal with refunds, chargebacks, customer support, and so on.
You probably know already that there are good and bad offers. Some affiliate programs just offer poor quality products, while others are simply scams and ripoffs.
The most suspicious products I have discovered, are connected to CPA marketing.
If you don’t know already what CPA is, CPA stands for cost-per-action and it’s just another form of affiliate marketing.
According to Google Trends, the people’s interest in CPA marketing is on an ascending course.
There are several differences between CPA and the traditional affiliate marketing. The main one is that with CPA you can get paid even when someone doesn’t buy what you are promoting.
For example, with CPA, you can get paid when someone enters his email address and submits a form, registers a free account, installs a software, etc.
The typical affiliate model only pays you when someone you refer makes a purchase.
Because the CPA offers are usually easier to promote due to the many conversion points that don’t require a product purchase, many people who start in the internet marketing industry plunge into CPA marketing.
I’m promoting online products as an affiliate since 2015, but I have also experienced a bit with the CPA marketing model. The thought that you can earn money without the need of convincing someone to purchase a product is very enticing.
Recently, I saw a video on YouTube that has roused my interest in promoting mobile CPA offers.
Since I didn’t know too many things about promoting mobile offers, I’ve purchased a course about how to promote CPA mobile offers. This course was sold by a well-known member of Affiliatefix forum.
The training course was mainly about promoting sweepstakes and antivirus mobile offers. It was indeed very good, but after I finished the course, I found some aspects not so pleasant about CPA marketing and the online marketing in general.
Ethical Marketing vs Unethical Marketing
I believe that in order to be a successful affiliate marketer, you have to believe in the products you promote.
If you are a person who believes in ethical marketing, then you’ll have a hard time to find a good CPA offer to promote, especially a mobile offer.
Finding a good offer to promote was my first struggle.
The CPA sweepstakes offers are basically promises of a prize or the chance to win a prize. These usually take the shape of gift cards, mobile phones, gaming consoles, tablets, etc.
To trigger a conversion, usually, the user needs to submit personal information like name, email, phone number, etc. The more information the user has to provide, the more the offer will usually pay.
Nothing wrong with this so far. If the user can receive a free prize, why not show him the offer, right? We are doing him a favor.
The unethical marketing is that the user never wins anything.
These prizes are just used as an incentive for someone to give his personal information, but the reality is that the prizes aren’t real (the advertisers that claim to offer these prizes have no connection with the genuine manufacturers of the products).
Most of the offers specify that the user “CAN” earn a prize and the presented product it’s not a guarantee of winning. However, the text that states this might be somewhere in the footer of the page, and with a very small font that’s hard to read.
Besides that, in the backend (after the person submits his personal information), the user might be required to takes surveys, or to purchase something in order to “receive a chance to win the promised prize”.
The company that collects the user information might sell the user data (for marketing purposes), or continue to promote other paid products to that person.
You are the lucky winner of an iPhone X
A few days ago, while I was browsing the Internet, a domain redirected me to an offer that informed me I was the lucky winner of an iPhone X (that might be my lucky day, right?).
Of course, I knew that wasn’t true, and I was well aware that what I was seeing was just an advertiser who was looking to get my personal information. I immediately thought of the people that see this offer and they are convinced they have won the prize.
Since I landed directly on advertiser’s page, I was able to find the name of the company that was promoting that offer (I won’t give you the name since I don’t want to damage anyone’s image).
I copied that name and searched it on Google to see if there are complaints about that company and what seemed to me unethical marketing techniques.
The first several results that showed up were about “how to remove *company name* pop-up ads.”
So, there were people complaining about seeing ads on their computers from this company without their consent (that usually happens when your computer has an adware software installed).
Does that seem like an ethical marketing method for you? Not for me.
What has shocked me the most was one of the next results.
On a well-known lawyers forum from Romania, a woman has presented a case concerning the advertiser I’ve mentioned before.
More exactly, this women’s eleven years old daughter has seen the same type of advertising I saw, and the girl truly believed she had won an iPhone.
The girl’s mother has outlined the process the girl has followed to claim her prize.
First, the girl was informed through a “spin 2 win type” landing page that she is the lucky winner of a mobile phone. I’m sure you’ve seen this type of landing page before.
She was then asked to enter her name and her phone name on the next page in order to claim the prize.
The girl was then asked to confirm a PIN code. Unfortunately, the girl was young and naive enough and she didn’t know that she was going to be charged for what was to follow.
She was then asked to answer several questions using her phone and since the girl was absolutely convinced that will won the mobile phone, she entered the game and was overcharged for every response sent.
Her mother found out about this when the phone bill was issued and when she had to pay approximately $80.
While $80 might not be a big sum of money for some of you, in Romania, that was about 30% of the minimum wage in 2016 when this event happened.
By posting on that forum, the girl’s mother was asking the lawyers if there’s a way to avoid paying the overcharged bill. She was even open to the possibility of suing the company that has tricked her daughter.
Unfortunately, the lawyers said there’s nothing she can do, and she has probably ended up paying the phone bill in full.
After reading about this unfortunate event, I wondered if I still want to promote CPA offers. I can earn money, but what if I’ll do that by causing pain to someone else?
Therefore, I gave up on the idea of promoting this type of offers.
Promoting deceiving products
Here’s another example of what I consider to be unethical marketing. This second case is not only a specific example of bad CPA marketing tactics but an immoral marketing example in general.
This time, the story was not found on the Internet, but it’s something that has happened to a close friend of mine.
This friend always had a few extra pounds. He is not very fat, but it’s also not a skinny guy.
One day, he told me very proud that he ordered a weight loss product online after he saw an ad on Facebook (that was back in the days when Facebook was still accepting ads related to weight loss products). He was very excited that he was going to finally lose a few pounds.
I asked him if he did a research before placing the order and he said that he read all the comments, saw all the before/after photos, the people posted there and he was really convinced that he made the right choice.
Since he’s not really a “computer guy,” he very rarely purchases things online. The fact that he has bought this product online, has triggered my interest and I asked him what’s the name of the product so I can do a bit of research on his behalf before the product is delivered.
He didn’t know exactly the name of the product, but I was able to find it based on the description provided by him.
The product has triggered me a red flag right after I saw its name. More exactly, it was one of the weight loss products you see on many CPA networks (I give you a clue. It was based on chocolate).
Even though I was skeptical right after I saw a weight loss product based on chocolate that didn’t require a special diet or sport, I did not rush to conclusions. After all, I’m not a dietician.
The best things I could do at that point was to search for reviews since I was not convinced that the comments he saw were real.
With the help of Google, I was able to find the exact page he saw.
Surprise! It was just an advertorial type of page.
An advertorial is a page that looks like a real blog post, but its only purpose is to sell you something (see an example below).
The comments he was telling me about, were nothing by fake testimonials and there was not even a form on that page where someone could leave a comment.
Immediately, I knew that his dreams were close to being shattered.
The next step was obviously to search for real comments and testimonials from real people who have purchased and used the product.
Again, with the help of Google Search, I was able to find several blogs and forums where real people shared their opinion about this product.
As I initially thought, this product has proven to be nothing but a good way of taking someone’s money. The majority of the people that have used it were seeing no results and the few ones that have noticed a small weight drop have combined the product with diet and sport (you can probably guess to whom the results were actually due).
Moreover, I found that my friend had only ordered a unit of this product (that would have been enough for about one week). From people’s comments, I found out that the company’s representants were stating that in order to see results with their product, you need to consume the chocolate shake at least for three months.
So, he was probably going to receive an up-sell phone call shortly after his first product would have been delivered.
As much as I did not want to ruin my friend’s dreams, I told him my findings. That made him sad, but at least he was able to cancel the order since the product was not delivered yet.
Lying people to earn money
A very aggressive form of marketing is the promotion of the mobile CPA antivirus offers.
These offers are usually advertised with landing pages that basically lie the people who see the ads that their phone has been infected with some kind of malware or virus.
The landing pages usually try to reproduce the look of the notification windows from the operating system of the phone the visitor utilizes, try to make the user believe that his phone was scanned and viruses were found, and other deceiving tactics.
Here’s an example:
When someone clicks on “Remove any viruses,” he is then redirected to the offer. This page usually asks the user for his mobile number.
The user enters his phone number in the form, submits it and receives a text message. Next, he has to go to a particular website and enter that PIN number he has previously received.
That will confirm the subscription to a service by a PIN code and the user will be charged a monthly fee.
Many people do not even know that they will have to pay a monthly subscription fee. This information is usually stated at the bottom of the offer’s page with a very tiny font, or in a terms page or section that not many people read.
There are also many other landing pages that notify the user that their Adobe Flash Player needs to be updated, their WhatsApp will stop working if they don’t take a specific action, etc.
Of course, these messages are not displayed by the official apps.
Are there any CPA offers that are not scams?
Besides a large number of low-quality CPA offers and scams, there are also advertisers that don’t want to deceive people.
There are genuine desktop gaming offers and mobile phone apps that convert on install (the real apps), for every account registered, or when the user first enters the game.
Besides these, there are also big companies in various fields that promote their services with the help of the CPA networks.
You can definitely make with the CPA marketing model, but sometimes it’s very hard to find a good offer to promote because of the multitude of bad offers.
I honestly think that the CPA networks should have a stricter process of reviewing these offers (probably many of the networks don’t even have a review process).
I know some marketers don’t care about the quality of the products they promote as long as they earn money.
Regardless if we talk about CPA or the traditional affiliate marketing, I think an affiliate or a product vendor should always put a high emphasis on the quality of the product he promotes.
If you don’t share the same opinion as me, just think what if some of your family members would be scammed by an offer you promote. How would you feel if someone close to you would lose a high amount of money (maybe his entire life savings)?