Compliance in online marketing: A case for the long haul

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I started my career in the direct mail world of magazines, “As Seen on TV” products, and sweepstakes offering people a chance at riches. Probably our most questionable tactic back then consisted of making the following exciting, emotional claim; “You could almost possibly already be a winner!” Despite the hyperbole, ten million dollar and one million dollar grand prizes continue to be awarded annually to a fortunate few. It is a real testament to compliance and self-regulation.

In contrast, many of today's online marketers profit from deceptive techniques, false claims and taxation. The Internet has become saturated with fake blogs and fake articles, commonly and not so affectionately referred to as “flogs” and “farticles.” These pages not only make unsubstantiated claims that cause people to spend money and ingest a potentially toxic cocktail of unproven home remedy-type products; they also result in advertisers losing their merchant accounts. How do these companies and affiliates get away with such chicanery? They lack compliance and self-regulation.

Determining how and when to monitor publishers and ensure compliance can be a slippery slope. When these irresponsible parties get blacklisted, will the volume of companies and affiliates contract? This question needs to be carefully considered. Still, FTC involvement levying fines, handing out lawsuits, and assessing future regulations will go a long way toward instituting best practices across the varied media courses.

Compliance and self-regulation are issues of great personal importance. Having spent fifteen years working in direct marketing, I fully recognize the role I played in promoting such practices. But it is this level of understanding that has caused me to reevaluate my prior philosophy and establish better ways of doing business. For example, instituting improved monitoring tools and best of breed practices can diligently protect the brand image of the client. Making branded offers available exclusively to a select group of trusted partners who directly control the media promotes transparency and builds confidence.

Additionally, I believe that creating online governing boards is an idea whose time has come. Global blacklists, standardized regulations, and even scoring affiliates would advance financial and ethical responsibility among Internet marketers. Gravitating toward this limited inclusion model is something of a corrective shift by us “old timers” who expanded the online space over the past decade and remain committed to it for the long haul.

As more dollars pour into the online space, it is time for marketers to unite if we want to avoid the government regulations currently impacting the radio, TV and print mediums. Once that happens, progress will be slowed and all moves will be long-term by default.

Those who have spurious short-term monetary goals are often envied and, at times, held in high esteem. But in my opinion, it is more estimable to execute your wealth building strategy the right way: through compliance and self-regulation.

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