The Hypocrisy of Affiliate Disclosure Rules?

I might end up doing a show about this down the road, but as I was running around the internet this morning, something occurred to me. I came across some articles about the disclosure of affiliate links, and how we’re supposed to disclose everything now, everywhere we are. Post an affiliate link on your site? Disclose. Tweet an affiliate link on Twitter? Disclose. Facebook? Disclose. No matter what the context, we’re supposed to disclose.

Well, let me ask you two questions, and I’m genuinely curious what you think.

First, why is it that other forms of media are not subject to such stringent rules? Television and radio are not required to disclose every single relationship they have. Movies? Product placement is the norm. There’s never been a requirement that says “If you show a product in your movie, you must disclose that you were paid to put it there.”

Second, what about situations where there’s money on the line, but it’s not an affiliate relationship? Here’s an example. Chris Pearson created the Thesis framework for WordPress. (Wanna make a guess about whether or not that link was an affiliate link?) Chris is very active on Twitter. He promotes Thesis pretty regularly. He potentially benefits from every link back to Thesis because he’s its creator! So… should Chris be required to “disclose” that he potentially makes money when people click his links? Remember, affiliate links are not guaranteed compensation – only if someone makes a purchase does an affiliate get paid. Maybe someone clicks one of Chris’ links and buys Thesis, maybe not.  I could be another example. I’m launching a podcast consulting gig. Do I need to disclose when I link to my pages that I’m going to make money if you hire me? Technically, according to the concepts and the spirit behind what we are required to do with affiliate links, Chris and I should both be disclosing on each and every link we put out there.

I’d like to know what you think about this.

About Daniel M. Clark

Daniel M. Clark is a podcaster and proprietor of QAQN, a writer at danielmclark.com, and an all-around cool dude everywhere else.

God, I hate talking about myself in the third-person.

Randy Cantrell February 25, 2011 at 11:07 am

I'd like to tell you what I think, but I'm afraid of the FTC. The whole disclosure thing gives me tired-head.

Daniel M. Clark February 26, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Just make sure that you disclose that your opinion is your own and I'm not paying you to give it, otherwise the FTC might wonder and… I don't know, come after you somehow? Wouldn't surprise me.

SunshineTricia February 25, 2011 at 11:41 am

The other thing that doesn't make any sense to me is that you can include "referral" links for everything and no one compares it to having to disclose affiliate marketing. I see money saving bloggers put out their referral links for Groupon, Mypoints, etc. and they do not have to disclose that they are referral links even though the bloggers stand to gain from other people using their referral links. Every other post on my Facebook stream is "Join Swagbucks so you can earn like I do" and they are all referral links. It's a complete inconsistency in the rules. The bottom line is that you either trust the person whose link you are clicking and don't care if they are compensated for it or you don't trust them and so you don't click the link.

Daniel M. Clark February 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Yes! That's another thing… referral links. Are they not a form of affiliate link? Shouldn't they be included? If not, why not?

akagorilla February 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm

To quote Michael J Fox in the movie the American President… "I tell any girl I'm going out with to assume that all plans are soft until she receives confirmation from me thirty minutes beforehand." I really have no idea what relevance that has to this topic, I just wanted to use the quote. But if there is a connection, I would say that in this world of social media, everyone should assume every link is an affiliate link if its shortened or screams referrer, unless I specifically say it isn't.

Daniel M. Clark February 26, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Exactly. I've never, no matter the medium, expected that money *hasn't* changed hands at some point. In the movies, I know that the filmmaker was paid to put that bottle of Coke in the shot. On the radio, I know that the station is being given those free concert tickets to give away by the concert promoters in exchange for talking up the concert. On the internet, I know that most of the time, links to a product or service may make some money for the site that I'm clicking the link from. It's an assumption that we should all be making because in almost every instance, across mediums, it's what's happening.

Daniel M. Clark February 26, 2011 at 9:48 pm

I remember as a teenager learning about product placement and wondering why it was allowed. Didn't seem right to me – not because it wasn't being disclosed, but because it was just one more way for the company with the most money to get richer. I didn't like what it meant for small businesses.

But I think you're right, I remember learning that there was some debate about it years ago, but like most problems of this kind, the solution was to pay for it to get swept under the rug.

Joko Susilo February 28, 2011 at 5:44 am

Can I ask you how is the opportunity of podcasting in the era of Web 2.0?
because I see that you launch the service that is very different from most services available on internet.

Daniel M. Clark March 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Podcasting is alive and well and, in my opinion, poised to go more mainstream than ever!

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