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January 25, 2005

Destroy Your Reputation: Hire Affiliate Spammers

I don't know what some companies are thinking when they launch affiliate programs that enourage affiliates to advertise a major brand. Some affiliate mailers are uncontrolled spammers who mail to harvested addresses, blaring what might have once been a reputable brand name into the inboxes of recipients who smell spam from a mile away.

Over the years I've written off companies—I won't do business with them ever—because rogue affiliates spam me in an effort to direct my business to the brand names. Omaha Steaks, for example, is on that list.

I now add Blockbuster Video.

Digging a bit into Blockbuster's affiliate plan, I found that they use a third-party company to handle the program. If you want to become a Blockbuster affiliate, you register with this outside company. This company's Web site is a little confusing because they say it's "powered by" yet a different company name, a name whose domain appears in the browser's Address field. It's hard to know who's on first.

Checking the agreement to which potential affiliates are supposed to adhere, there are various requirements about being CAN-SPAM compliant and that the sender must have proof of (not necessarily confirmed) opt-in registration from a recipient. I have no idea where the affiliate for the Blockbuster offer I received got the address, but I can tell you that I did not opt into anything at the sender's home-bizness-sounding domain.

And there's the rub: If I wanted to report this suspected offense to the affiliate program company, I'd have to supply the email address that received the spam so that the affiliate could (theoretically) supply proof of opt-in-ness. My guess is that the registration info would be similar to the bogus IP address and time stamps I've received in other spam messages (where I'd have to have been in China when I registered). But if I supply the address, the spammer would simply remove me from his database (a process called listwashing). It's highly unlikely that the spammer would suffer any consequences from the company managing the affiliate program (perhaps a "naughty, naughty" finger wagging).

I understand why companies don't want to get into managing affiliate programs in-house, especially if they don't have the expertise. But the longer the chain from brand to emailer, the more chance rogue elements will slip up, and get your brand in hot water.

In the meantime, Blockbuster Video is forever blackballed at my domains. For this kind of malarky, I have a one-strike policy. My server, my rules. If I were a Blockbuster retail customer, I'd take my business elsewhere.

Posted on January 25, 2005 at 04:39 PM