Why the Affiliate Marketing Industry Needs to Worry About Fake News

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Whenever we hear a company express hesitation about launching an affiliate program or influencer marketing initiative, it’s often due to their concern about not being able to control how the affiliate is representing their brand.

While there are many practical ways to alleviate this concern, the reality is that, in the era of fake news, it’s definitely a valid concern.

The Rise of Fake News

The pairing of social media and malevolent marketers has led to a rise in fake news distribution in recent years. This was never more evident than during this past election cycle. For example, a recent Buzzfeed analysis found that fake election new stories on Facebook generated more engagement than real election stories from 19 major news outlets – combined. In fact, a new study from economists at Stanford University and New York University found that while fake news stories that circulated on social media prior the 2016 US presidential election may not have decided the election, it certainly influenced it.

Election results aside, these duplicitous tactics are also leaving a black eye on celebrity “endorsements.” For example, Joy Behar, best known for her co-hosting role on The View, found herself to be a victim of fraudulent marketing when a fake news site fabricated a story that the reason she was leaving The View was to spend time on her “wildly popular anti-aging skin care line” called JuvaLux.

The fake news story is filled with made-up testimonials from Behar’s celebrity pals, including Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, and Meredith Vieira. Not only was Behar not leaving the view, she also didn’t have any knowledge of or involvement with this product.

Oprah, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Rachel Ray and many others have had fake news sites use their name and likeness to promote products and services. More often than not, the “As endorsed by [celebrity name]” claim is bogus as the efficacy of the product being peddled.

Problematic Publishers

The vast majority of affiliates and influencer marketers are above-board, ethical and authentic in their marketing efforts. With that said, there are also those who have no regard for the reputation of the industry or a brand. Their advertising actions are deceitful, unethical, offensive and harmful. These individuals and companies will use any means necessary to try and make a quick buck.

For example, a recent court ruling against affiliate network, LeadClick, found that they were working with and paying affiliates to promote LeanSpa, LLC’s acai berry and other products by using fake news to generate traffic and clicks.

The court found that LeadClick “managed” those affiliates, suggested substantive edits to their fake news pages and purchased banner ad space for these fake news sites on legitimate news sources. In some cases, the deceptive nature of the sites was further concealed because some of these players were using major news network’s logos.

While the FTC found that LeanSpa was aware of the deceptive marketing practices and fake news being used to promote their products, most companies will have no awareness of or involvement with these activities. They could have a legitimate product that publishers are promoting in an off-brand way. However, as we’ve seen with the FTC’s rulings regarding disclosures of native advertising, even if the brand is not aware of unscrupulous activities being used to promote their products and services, they still could be legally held liable.

Whether it’s due to marketing activities of affiliates, influencers or partners, any off-brand activity makes a brand look bad. And that’s in direct opposition to what marketing – of any kind- is about.

Fostering a Forthright Affiliate Marketing Future

As an industry, we need to ensure that there are proper controls and systems in place to protect brands from fake news and to weed out those individuals and companies that create and distribute it.

There are already enough myths about what affiliate marketing is and is not; when believed, those myths only lead to significant missed opportunities for companies.

The affiliate marketing industry has evolved leaps and bounds since its inception back in the 90s. It’s proven to be an incredibly effective marketing model that contributes impressive results to a company’s incremental revenue and brand awareness.

If we want to see this model continue to grow and flourish to its fullest potential, then we need to come together and pledge that we will only support networks, partners and affiliates who engage in white hat marketing activities. And to protect their brand, companies need to ensure that they are working with credible partners. To find out what to look for in a credible affiliate partner, download our latest quick guide.

Having an actively-managed affiliate program could alleviate issues with problematic publishers. If you’d like to evaluate the strength and condition of your affiliate program, use our free online affiliate grader. You can also request a complimentary program evaluation from our team!

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