“Do Affiliate Marketers Ever Feel Guilty?”

One of the dumbest questions I get asked is “Do you ever feel guilty?

It’s the inquisition that follows my brief and ambiguous description of what I do for a living.

You’re making money from other people’s misery and false expectations…” goes the moral line of questioning.

Yep, that’s about the size of it.

I sit at my desk wearing horns as a dual-screen flickers with fire and brimstone. Somewhere in a distant land, my digital lambs are being lined up for the slaughter. And for what? Another $5 in my pocket? Don’t I ever feel guilty about that?

Guilty, no.

I feel about as guilty as a fish for shitting in the sea.

Dirty… always.

Just another day at the office.

Why I don’t contribute to ‘share your office’ posts.

As long as advertising guidelines are being followed, there’s no reason to feel guilty that consumers are doing what consumers have always done.

People love investing in their dreams as much as they hate waking up and realising their own naivety for believing in another ‘magic button’.

While I would never advocate products that scam and steal money, there’s a huge misconception of what constitutes a scam in this business. In the majority of cases, users scam themselves.

They buy in to bullshit because they want to. It’s easier than facing reality. Nobody wants to be sold reality. And that’s okay.

It’s the way it’s always been.

Advertising provides an endless stream of placebos to cure emptiness and unease.

Affiliate marketers – driven by arbitrage and the waft of desperation – chase the same ends with less finesse.

It’s this unfortunate lack of judgment that cops a media firestorm; the bad press and FTC booty lashings soon follow. The actions of a few cast the entire industry in a negative light.

Oh, you little affiliate marketing urchin, I’ve heard about your kind.

What irks me most is the idea that some affiliate marketers are ‘above’ the business of advertising.

There are a lot of hypocritical voices in this industry who will speak down on anything remotely attached to CPA, while running reviews on their own sites about products and services they haven’t touched in their lifetimes. I would feel guilty if I was that full of shit.

All affiliate marketers are created equal, but some are clearly more equal than others.

I said that I don’t feel guilty, but I do feel dirty.

So, how is it possible to have a clear yet dirty conscience?

Well, there are two forms of guilt. There is the kind that arises from scamming and ripping people off, which affiliate marketers are often mistakenly diagnosed with.

And then there is the self-inflicted guilt that our time could be spent more productively on helping individuals rather than guiding them further in to delusion.

I don’t feel guilty that I make a lot of money from affiliate marketing, because it’s a legitimate industry and I need to put dinner on the table. That much is fact.

But I do feel dirty that my own talents aren’t going to a greater use. It’s psychologically unsustainable, for me personally, to spend the rest of my career in an industry that breeds such contempt.

Just one hour lost to lucrative campaigns is one hour that could have been spent on objectives I personally believe in – those that excite me. They are projects I can discuss around a dinner table without faceplanting my gravy in shame.

Thankfully I’m in a position where I’m doing well enough to be able to work on both campaigns and my long-term objectives. Yet affiliate marketing is still my job.

I don’t feel guilty about that, and no ‘regulation-abiding’ affiliate should.

Recommended This Week

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About the author

Finch
Finch

A 29 year old high school dropout (slash academic failure) who sold his soul to make money from the Internet. This blog follows the successes, fuck-ups and ball gags of my career in affiliate marketing.

14 Comments

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  • A very poignant take on what I know I’ve faced and what is keeping me from really going for affiliate marketing (well, that and I have NO sales skill).

    I look at some of the offers I could run and wonder if my soul could withstand pushing such filth. Those, I stay away from. Even the “more” legitimate, less debasing offers still ring of something slick and oily sometimes.

    The bottom line though, as you said, is that a) humans will buy this shit anyway and b) we have to put food on the table. As long as I’m able to steer clear of the truly low, I think I’ll be alright.

    Still doesn’t mean I’m going brag about what I do as an affiliate….

  • Thanks for writing this. Going beyond affiliate marketing, I think sales in general makes people cringe. I’ve felt that way in the past. We’d like to get rich, but hate to sell.

    You talked earlier about needing to put dinner on the table, a worthy point. Expanding on that further, one mental re-frame is you could see sales as the engine of the economy. If a business can’t sell, they can’t create jobs, fulfill customer needs and pay taxes that cover everything else society needs. Without sales, nothing else happens.

    As for assuaging our conscience, it might pay to compartmentalize. Do what sells to make money. Do what helps people to make the world better.

    For example, run your campaigns to earn money. Then on the side you could teach affiliate marketing to needy people who have tech skills in countries where there are no jobs. These articles spring to mind:

    The chilling story of genius in a land of chronic unemployment A TechCrunch article about Nigerian Internet scammers.

    Welcome to hackerville A Wired article about a Romanian town that breeds cybercriminals.

    So much wasted potential. Kids that would otherwise be start-up entrepreneurs resort to crime. As bad as affiliate marketing can seem, it hasn’t got a patch on stealing credit card numbers. I imagine people like that would could crush it in affiliate marketing.

    If you’re not up for reforming criminals, there’s this NGO called Samasource. They specialize in micro-tasks (like Amazon Mechanical Turk) and provide computer-based work to those in poverty. I’ve wanted to outsource things like transcribing videos and podcasts to them. Gets business done and help others at the same time.

  • Your post actually spoke my mind. I never felt great about the work I had to do as an affiliate. Not being able to share what I was up to to near and dear ones was hurting. Frankly, no one’s girlfriend would be thrilled to know that he makes money helping guys find ‘f**k buddies’. I couldn’t think of doing this for the rest of my life.

    Later, I understood feeling bad won’t help me or any of the people that say goodbye to their email trying to score walmart gift card. I had to accept the fact that this is just a quick and dirty way to make money. Now, I’m making money and building a demo for a startup that I’ve been planing. After all, as you’ve said, at the end of the day we need to put dinner on the table.

  • You can look at it this way, if you’re doing EDU lead gen the right way and driving students to enroll into higher education then you just helped a few people, that may have not seen the opportunities ahead of them for themselves, do something that could possibly empower them to do greater things in life. This is where our business really makes a difference in the world and benefits our pockets at the same time. There should be no shame in that! 🙂

  • Great article. Yea I understand the dirty feeling. Sure there are a lot of shady things in this business, but that’s the same in any industry. Affiliate marketing can be used to promote good products and services that help people. In the end it’s up to the individual to choose what they want to do.

  • Finch (Martin),

    Excellent post. You are a beast! Bottom line is affiliate marketing is a means to an end. If that end is simply cash for cars while gaming a user into a zip submit for a buck, then the affiliate marketers are not that far removed from their own zip submit victims.

    Short-sighted people usually take advantage of themselves while they seek to prey on others, often resulting in dramatic undoings…

    Years from now many an affiliate marketer will say to himself (or herself) “Man, if I would’ve just listened to that Finch guy a little closer, instead of taking only the things I wanted to hear and making a mess of my life.”

    Hmm.. Maybe that’s little too far?

    Great post, nonetheless.

  • Personally I love being dirty. The more squalid my offer the happier I am. Nothing compares to the joy of sending losers to a Tao Of Badass offer and getting fifty bucks a pop. Pheromones? Yes please! Once click internet riches? Youbetcha.

    There’s a kind of almost perverted thrill that we can live this kind of double life, helping mom and pops for a day job and at night souring the web for more high payout piffle to monger. Muahahah.

    No guilt ever. If someone wasn’t in some way morally ambiguous they’d never click on my shit any way.

  • @John – That’s what it comes down to for me too. I don’t promote the lowest of the lows. But where the lines are blurred, there’s money to be made.

    @Marcus – Thanks for those links. Some very interesting reads.

    @Chinmoy – Good luck with the startup! I’m working on one too. Exciting to be involved with.

    @ArrJay – This is true, and I have actually been involved with promoting EDU offers before. There used to be a lot more of them around than I see today. If you know of any good networks that specialise in the EDU area, I’d love to hear about them.

    @Phil – Yeah, there are definitely ‘clean’ options in the industry. Less so in the CPA world, admittedly. It’s usually the scammiest offers that produce the most lucrative rewards which is a shame, but predictable.

    @Brian – Thanks. I just hope it’s not me who’s sitting these wishing he’d listened to himself!

    @Ally – You’d be a perfect match for those crazy New Years Resolution CPA campaigns. If you haven’t seen them before, it involves creating a ‘fake blog’ and listing everything from “How I quit my job in February” to “How I lost 34 lbs in March” to “How I learnt the entire Chinese language before summer”. Truly, the pinnacle of affiliate squalor!

  • Finch, top post. I haven’t given this much thought, but I realized I agree with you.

    I don’t feel guilty at all for being a CPA affiliate, but dirty – yeah.

  • It’s worth noting that there are quite a few ways to do affiliate marketing that are genuinely helping people.

    Personally, I make money from one webhost whom I’d cheerfully promote for free – and indeed have and do. It’s a very pleasant feeling to look at a sale statement and think “excellent, another fifteen people I’ve helped avoid crappy webhosting.”

    Pat Flynn at Smart Passive Income is, or at least appears to be, a big proponent of this sort of actively helpful affiliation. And I believe even you, Finch, have on occasion recommended things you thought would improve your readers’ lives 🙂

    There are good products out there in virtually all affiliate fields – good free games (LoTRO), good Make Money Online products, even good dating sites.

    Just a random thought – affiliate marketing can help people too!

  • Not really guilty until i search on google datingoffer complaints. I read every single complaint and lord most of them ripping of users money through auto renewal that couldnt stop.

  • To me it seems like humans are inherently drawn to the “quick buck” or “easy fix” in every situation. While I don’t promote anything personally that would cause any guilt I don’t have issue with folks who promote biz opps, and other methods because let’s face it we as a species want things to be easy. Failing after being given a 1-2-3 process on how to succeed is how we operate. If everyone was always driven to succeed a billionaire would be the AVERAGE.

    Here’s the thing that seals it for me:

    Instead of people eating right and exercising, they take a cocktail of pills to keep themselves alive (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc) because it’s easier and they don’t have to do any work. They are shelling out thousands of dollars a year for this stuff. So when they spend $25 on a product online to try to open their own business, why do they get mad when THEY fail? They fail all of the time in other aspects of their lives, too. And I don’t see them raging on pharmaceutical companies.

    Again I don’t promote any money-making offers myself but I don’t see what the problem is on either side of the fence.

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