Ethical affiliate marketing. The term may seem odd to you, but if you’re considering becoming an affiliate marketer, it’s good that you know what it means.

It’s also good (maybe?!) to at least consider if it’s something you want to care about.

Ethical affiliate marketer - which side are you?
Good or bad? Somewhere in between?

Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you know what affiliate marketing is – but if you don’t go check out my post ‘what is affiliate marketing.

Ok so let’s assume you know what affiliate marketing is, what do we mean by ethical? ‘Ethical’ means (subjectively) something of moral value, something ‘good’.

Of course, I could bore you with a long essay about meta-ethics and the subjective nature of morality – but hey, my philosophy degree was years ago. So to make life easier, let’s just agree that ethical means ‘good’ and unethical means ‘bad’.

So how do ethics apply to affiliate marketing?

Well, as an affiliate, it’s your choice what you promote. So fundamentally you need to decide are you happy to promote anything to make a quick buck, or are you going to draw some lines in the sand you won’t cross?

Basically are there products, that no matter what profit they might give, you would never promote?

When you’re starting out with affiliate marketing you probably just want to make money however you can (and I suppose many people carry on with that thought). But are you actually considering how you feel about the products?

Maybe you shouldn’t – I’m sure you’ll get richer by having no morals at all, but is that the kind of person you want to be?

If you don’t like something you promote, if it goes against your ethics or beliefs, then just doesn’t feel right, you shouldn’t promote it. You’ll never enjoy the work, and people will notice when they read your content.

A big consideration (one of my lines in the sand) is if a product has the potential to cause harm.

Let’s take an example from the diabetes niche. This is a huge niche with all sorts of products in it, but some products claim to literally cure diabetes. This is, frankly, complete nonsense.

It’s nonsense because diabetes is a condition that requires careful management and different treatments work for different people. It also impacts your life expectancy, so it’s completely irresponsible to sell things that claim to ‘cure’ it.

If a diabetic bought a product because you promoted it – thought they were ‘curing’ their diabetes and stopped taking their insulin and then died….how would you feel about that? Was it worth you earning a $20 commission?

Hopefully your answer would be no, no it’s not worth earning $20…

An extreme example – but hopefully this makes my point.

People Want A Snake Oil Seller

Elephant in the room time – a LOT of affiliate products are basically digital (or physical) snake oil.

The diabetes ‘cure’, the future telling app, the ‘free energy machine’, the done for you system for push-button riches. It’s all lies. These products do NOT work.

Yet people still buy them. People buy a LOT of them. People WANT them.

snake oil seller
Looks dodgy doesn’t he? He can make you rich at the push of a button…

Depressingly, some of the most popular selling products on ClickBank are firmly in the snake oil category.

But why is this? Well I guess it’s because these things feed our baser human desires – want to be richer, look better etc – and people want a ‘direct shortcut’ without the effort.

Why spend hours at a gym each week to lose weight when you just take a ‘magical remedy’ before bed that will ‘fix it’ for you?…

Why work hard to build and business when you can just buy something for $37 dollars and push a button to become rich?

And of course this makes it even harder to be an ethical affiliate marketer – you can see the demand for these products. People want them and there is (a LOT) of money to made from them.

Actually sidenote: If this price of something ends in a 7 – that’s pretty much a guarantee it’s not going to work 😛

50 Shades Of Grey (No Not That Kind…)

As we’ve just seen, there are clearly many products that are easily identified as unethical. But, there are just as many that fall somewhere in the middle.

Let’s look at CPA marketing. Sweepstakes are a great example.

‘Win an iPhone 12’ – how many people that fill in their details do you think actually do win an iPhone? I’ll be honest I don’t know – but I’m guessing the bare minimum that makes it legal to advertise the offer. So probably 1 person.

But then sweepstakes aren’t asking for any money, they are just lead gen, and someone will win a phone – so is this ok? Maybe…I think so?!

Tricky isn’t it?

How can you be an ethical affiliate marketing then?

Well if you decide that you do fight for the powers of good (well not quite, but you know what I mean) there are things you can do.

First and most obvious, stay clear of the ‘snake oil products’ – it’s not hard to spot them.

Make yourself a set of rules – its up to you what’s in them but to give some examples, say to yourself I wont promote it if:

  • It could cause someone physical harm
  • It could cause them financial harm (like dodgy crypto investments of their life savings)
  • It obviously doesn’t work
  • And so on

The once you have a list, you know a product has tick all the boxes before you start throwing out your links.

Do your due diligence – research the product yourself, do not rely on affiliate networks and the sales pages. Maybe even consider buying it yourself and checking it out. What? Yes, really…

That way, you can confidently promote a product and state whether it’s actually any good or not.

Yes imagine that – being an affiliate marketer that only promotes things they’ve actually used and think are good(!) – they do exist…

Summing up

At the end of the day, where to draw the ethical line in the sand with affiliate marketing is a matter of personal preference. And some people may well decide, well, there is no line.

It’s down to you to decide what sort of affiliate marketer you want to be.

you can choose to be an ethical affiliate marketer
If the wings fit, wear them! 😀

But, at the very least I hope you now understand that there is more to affiliate marketing ethics than just whether a product will get you a fine from the ASA.

And maybe you’ll be able to apply these ideas to your own affiliate marketing activities.
I hope so.