Office of Fair Trading warns affiliate marketers

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has warned affiliate marketing companies that they must punish any affiliates who engage in misleading online marketing activity on their behalf. If they do not, the OFT has said that they will pursue legal action against the affiliate marketing company managing the overall campaign.

Affiliate marketing is a popular type of online marketing that involves affiliates conducting their own marketing efforts on behalf on a client. The client then pays the affiliates for every visitor, or customer, that they deliver. As such, affiliate marketing utilises a classic performance-based model.

Most affiliate marketing activity overlaps with other online marketing methods – including search engine optimisation (SEO), paid search (PPC), e-mail and display advertising. Unfortunately, some elements within the affiliate marketing industry also use less ethical techniques, such as publishing fake reviews.

In a recent case, the Office of Fair Trading took action against an affiliate marketing company whose affiliates were disguising adverts as customer reviews. The OFT also found that some affiliates within the campaign did not mention that they were being paid to promote certain products.

Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the goods and consumer group at the OFT, says: “When looking at online reviews and comments, it is important that consumers are not misled about the status of what they are reading - who has written it and why it has been written. In particular, they need to know whether that reviewer is receiving any form of payment for promoting the product.”

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