Ian Lee, founder of Affiliate Marketers Alliance, recently blogged that WaterFront Media is almost six months behind in payments for their affiliate payments through Commission Junction. Volumes could be said about just that situation with regards to both WaterFront Media and CJ. Ian does a pretty good job stating, what should be the obvious, on the matter of non-payment to affiliates. If not paying your affiliates for nearly six months isn’t bad enough, it seems that WaterFront Media is capable of adding insult to injury. How could that be possible? Well WaterFront Media seems to have a propensity for marketing the various web properties they represent through Zango. This isn’t their affiliates (why would their affiliates buy ad inventory even through Zango when they aren’t getting paid?) but WaterFront Media themselves doing the ad buys. Ok, the ads come through the Agora Media domain, but same thing just a different name.
I’ve documented numerous incidents of WaterFront Media represented sites popping through Zango over the last several months. They showed up in my testing my study, Impact of Contextual Advertising Adware in Affiliate Marketing: A Case Study. I classifed them as a Media Agency, so they weren’t named specifically in the report. However, they accounted for six of the total pop-ups received which was the majority of the pop-ups attibuted to Media Agencies.
That isn’t the only time I’ve found them popping through Zango. They appear to be targeting a wide range of web sites. Some of the most frequent properties I’ve seen promoted through Zango are Denise Austin and South Beach Diet, although these aren’t the only properties. And while they tend to target other sites in the health and fitness verticals, some of the targeting isn’t as obvious. For example, the Denise Austin web site popping on shoe merchants like FinishLine and EasySpirit. I’ve even seen them targeting keywords such as “lingerie” for a pop-up of the DeniseAustin web site.
What this means is that even affiliates who aren’t partnered with Waterfront Media may have traffic siphoned away from other merchants they send traffic to by WaterFront Media. And since WaterFront Media is running campaigns with general keyword targets, not just targeting specific domain names, these pop-ups could also well be happening on affiliate sites, not just merchant sites. How’s that for a true partnership between a merchant and affiliate?
Now one thing I always ask myself when I see merchants advertising directly through adware is the possibilty someone who is clueless doing the media buys. In this particular case however, the answer to that question is a resounding “they are very aware.” WaterFront Media is knowledgable not only with regards to adware advertising, but more specifically Zango. In March 2006, CDT (The Center for Democracy and Technology) published a report, Following The Money: How Advertisering Dollars Encourage Nuisance and Harmful and What Can Be Done To Reverse The Trend. In this report, the CDT outlines WaterFront Media’s involvement with Zango advertising. After the CDT filed a complaint with the FTC regarding Zango practices in January 2006, the CDT contacted eighteen of the advertisers found using Zango. WaterFront Media was one of these companies. WaterFront did not initially responded, but after the CDT’s report was made public they did respond. According to the CDT, WaterFront responded thus:
Representatives of Waterfront Media say that the company has suspended its relationship with 180Solutions pending further review of that company’s buiness practices. Waterfront Media spends less than less than one percent of its marketing budget on adware expects it’s advertising vendors to obtain explicit user consent before installing software, collect no personal information, allow for easy removal of advertising software and avoid third party advertising distribution, company officials say. Waterfront Media is considering implementing additional standards to insure that its partners and advertising vendors abide by industry best practices.
So there you go. Do I really need to say any more? Now the next question that comes to my mind in this particular situation is “Has Zango been paid in the last six months?” Maybe they haven’t, but Zango is a pay as you go service. Your account funds are zero, then you replenish or your ads stop. Now maybe Zango makes exceptions for their large advertisers, but I have a hard time believing Zango is still doing pop-ups while waiting to be paid for six months. I suppose it is possible but I doubt it’s in the realm of probable. So is Waterfront Media paying for their adware advertising and not their affiliates?