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December 10, 2018

Even Angels Quietly Make Money Referring Buyers to Sellers

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:09 am

Last week, we told you about network TV morning news and talk shows receiving “secret” payments when they plugged particular products in deal segments on their programs.

The concept of affiliate marketing — where sites get small commissions for referring their readers to sellers — is almost as old as the Internet itself. When a reader clicks a link to a seller on a website, it may be specially coded to identify what site referred the potential buyer.

You might be surprised who is using affiliate links now — Oprah and even Consumer Reports.

Our own Consumer World website uses affiliate links sparingly and has for years, usually in conjunction with a bargain. But, unlike virtually any other site, we flag each such affiliate link’s description with two hot green plus marks (++). And those plus marks lead readers to a clear but small disclosure at the bottom of the page explaining that we may earn a commission if you make a purchase from that link.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Consumer World affiliate disclosure

There is nothing inherently wrong about a publication entering into affiliate relationships with sellers as long as it doesn’t affect the editorial process. The question is, how well disclosed is that financial connection to readers? The FTC’s endorsement and testimonial guidelines require clear disclosure when a product reviewer has a financial connection to the product shown. We all could do better on disclosure.

 

Consumer Reports

While preparing last week’s Consumer Reports section of Consumer World (for which we receive no money), MrConsumer noticed a surprising disclosure in their “Top Gifts Under $50” story. The piece highlighted various products that rated well in Consumer Reports tests and provided direct links to the sites where they could be purchased. What was unexpected was a disclosure in tiny print at the end of the story.

*MOUSE PRINT: [highlighting added]

affiliate disclosure

Yes, even Consumer Reports, famous for not accepting advertising, buying all the products it tests instead of accepting free samples, and having a strict noncommercialization policy, makes money referring readers to sellers of the products it features in some stories.

We asked the organization, particularly given its sterling reputation and image, why they would virtually hide a disclosure like that in the smallest possible type. A spokesperson for them responded in part:

“Consumer Reports recently added new retailers to its shopping program, making it easier for consumers to buy rated products from a variety of online retailers while they’re researching them on ConsumerReports.org. At the time, we elevated our shopping disclaimer to the top of the page. We also have another disclaimer at the bottom of the page that links to the About Us section of our website where people can find additional information about our Commercial Partnerships.”

The November 30th story with the tiny disclosure only at the bottom apparently was an update of a previous story before the format change and therefore only had a disclosure at the end.

And as to why Consumer Reports makes the disclosure in such small type even when it appears on the top, the spokesperson said, “I have no answer for that.”

 

O – The Oprah Magazine

Oprah's Favorite ThingsAnother angel in the public eye is Oprah. We told you last week that historically, products that appear on her “Oprah’s Favorite Things” list of gift ideas have been chosen based solely on their merit. And we can confirm that is still the case after speaking to a product maker who has appeared on the list.

But does this mean that she or her magazine have not figured out a way to capitalize on the list? Not quite.

What O – The Oprah Magazine doesn’t talk about too prominently on its website is the fact that they have an affiliate relationship with the primary seller of the items on the list — Amazon. Click one of the “buy at Amazon” links in the story and if you buy the item, ca-ching for Oprah’s folks.

And as they say in a famous Seinfeld episode, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Except for this. It is only at the very end of the page of this year’s list, just above the Hearst copyright, that this tiny disclosure appears (in one very long line that we had to divide in half to fit here):

*MOUSE PRINT:

O Magazine disclosure

In conjunction with our story last week, we asked the editor of Oprah’s magazine a variety of questions including how its affiliate relationship with Amazon worked. We did not get a reply. Twice.

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2 Comments

  1. “Another angel in the public eye is Oprah.”

    An ‘angel’ that makes sure EVERYONE knows what an ‘angel’ she is. Look at me, aren’t I just the best person by giving away all this stuff?

    Comment by Gert — December 10, 2018 @ 4:25 pm
  2. Yeah, she gives away a lot of free stuff. But remember this…

    + The stuff isn’t bought. It’s donated to the show at no cost her company.
    + People have to pay PRIZE TAX on the items!

    Yes, even the people who got the new cars had to pay a nice chunk of change to keep them.

    In fact, one year Oprah took her entire staff and their families on a cruise. And once again, no cost to her but a cost to the employees. (Because it was considered a work bonus.)

    Comment by Scott — January 1, 2019 @ 12:21 pm

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