We all remember the Wild West, even though we never saw it. Thanks to Hollywood, everyone knows about cowboys and Indians, gunslingers at high noon, saloons and posses. Where Hollywood stopped filming, though, is where things got interesting. The explorers ran out of space, and big money started to move in. After a brief period of massive profit, a series of scandals caused the government to move in and start regulating. Does this sound familiar? That’s because exactly what happened in the Wild West a hundred years ago is happening now to the world of digital marketing.
The recent scandals around Facebook, the signing of SESTA-FOSTA, the advent of GDPR in the EU, and the moves towards cryptocurrency regulation are showing us that governments are cracking down on what they don’t like. It’s obvious that the era of easy access to data and unmonitored advertising is over, as anyone who watched Mark Zuckerburg’s Congressional testimony can see. For many affiliates, this is a huge problem. While I’m lucky in that the network I work for, ReviMedia, focuses on transparency and compliance, not everyone in this industry is in the same position. Black-hat and adult advertising has been incredibly profitable, and will continue to be, but as governments get involved the risks involved in these strategies will drastically increase. Most importantly of all, the affiliates of the future will have to be completely transparent with advertisers and platforms alike as regulatory crackdowns intensify.
The risk here doesn’t just apply to affiliates. Networks, advertisers, utilities, and agencies alike are all facing down this coming storm. Even networks that don’t focus on risky content will still see entire business units rendered non-viable. Anyone whose business model requires the existence of a nutra vertical, or an adult vertical, could see their entire company vanish in the face of government oversight and regulation. The ramifications for the data industry are just as profound, especially if the US implements something like GDPR. What if all aged data requires a tracking token to be sold? ReviMedia is, I think, ahead of the curve here in requiring leads that pass through our system to be verified, but this kind of oversight will soon become a reality for everyone. Affiliates will have to make sure all their data providers are fully trusted and compliant, or face down potential penalties far more severe than a Spamhaus listing.
Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that affiliate marketing as we know it is dead. Instead, the focus of affiliate marketers has to shift from short-term profit to long-term relationships. The consumers of my generation know when offers are legitimate, and they know when they’re being offered real products with real value. By working with these brands and focusing on high-intent traffic, affiliate marketers can generate sky-high returns without running into the long arm of the law. ReviMedia, as an affiliate network, specializes in exactly these kinds of offers, having established great relationships with brands as diverse as Vivint and Loan Depot. By focusing on quality and transparency, our affiliates are generating incredible revenues with hats so white they’re sparkling. In all fairness, this kind of approach isn’t for everyone, and I firmly believe that there’ll always be room for darker hats to make money doing what they do best. The question is what level of risk affiliates will be willing to accept, and how far regulators will go to assert their power, and those are questions we’ll be finding out the answers to soon enough.
During the Second World War, the French Army, considered to be the greatest in Europe, found out exactly what it was like to be on the wrong side of changing circumstances. Unless affiliate marketers want to be remembered as a bunch of incompetent cowards, shifting with the times is not just good business sense; it’s mandatory.