1 a: to beat with or as if with a rod or whip b: to criticize harshly
2: to force or urge into action
Flog (Online Marketing):
1. Fake blog
2. First-person advertorial phrased in a way that makes it look like an authentic story, presented in a format similar in look and function to blogs
The Rise and Beginning of the Fall
Beginning in Q3 2008, a new form of advertising started to take hold. Nothing about the sites looked remarkable. Nothing about the sites would suggest the level of revenue they would generate - individuals spending $60,000 / day and single companies earning north of $30,000,000 monthly. And, nothing about them would indicate that by the end of January 2009 (less than six months since their appearance) upwards of 70,000 people each day would enter their credit card information for products that readers of this blog would presume no one would purchase from never before heard of companies offering - acai, government grants, wrinkle cream, and google work from home offers to name a few, or as those offering them would prefer to describe it - customer acquisition for the health and beauty industry and financial services vertical.
As quickly as they have ascended, the flogs are poised for an equally impressive fall from prominence. The performance marketing industry has a well-earned reputation for pushing the limits, as evidenced by the attention it drew thanks to the often aggressive and misleading messaging that accompanied the mobile subscription marketing sector of ringtones and more recently the "iq quiz" programs. That sector has taught those us following the performance marketing space what will most likely happen with the flogs. The most surprising thing so far regarding flog advertising, or flogvertising as it is known among the industry players, is the intensity and (lack of) duration of the life cycle. Ringtones had a solid two years before experiencing headwinds, and if we include mobile subscription marketing as a whole, it still very much thrives despite those headwinds. One day, if ever there are going to be case studies on the dynamics of a marketing strategy online, the rise and fall of flogs and flogvertising will be it.
So why is a sector that many have yet to hear of already in decline? There are a few main factors, and it doesn't have to do with the sophistication of the online audience. It has everything to do with the uncontrolled aggressiveness of the marketers which triggered the following:
1) Swifter sanctions by those controlling traffic
2) A more quickly developed library of complaints that gained media and legal attention much quicker
That aggressiveness which allowed those participating to scale goes hand in hand with an endemic short term thinking that plagues much of the performance marketing sector, in this case what we might call the high performance sector. The quick money and lack of barriers to entry creates a gold rush mentality that with the creation of each new marketing method finds the miners tapping out the vein quicker and quicker. The worst transgression? Flogs aren't that bad; or, put another way, they are so much closer than it might seem to being a legitimate and viable marketing method (like infomercials and advertorials). Seeing them ruined and the wake they leave behind (hurting all blogs, all performance marketing, continuity programs, etc.) is painful for those who care and those who see how the high performance sector will probably earn 20% or less of the potential lifetime value had some notion of long-term thinking and restraint been employed.
Flogs took off for a reason, and it has very little to do with the weakness in online advertising; although, that did help them scale. Flogs solved the click to sale challenge that unbranded, low intent products faced. Ask anyone in the ad network business, and there is a reason you don't see many "Click Here to Buy" ads. They simply don't work. Let's look at an example. Pretend the ad says, "You can lose 20lbs in 1 month." And takes you here:
It has the testimonials, the media mentions, all the elements that should make it convert. But this ad could not run on display or scale on paid search no matter how well designed the creative or enticing the copy.
This ad as direct ad to a landing page like the above which worked well, but not in the scale we saw when it transformed to the flog. That affiliates could spend 15k per day on Facebook though, showed the potential. That was until Facebook no longer allowed images of Oprah or direct to Acai berry ads. Earlier landing pages took a much more aggressive route in trying to connect popular media with the landing page - implying an almost endorsement when none existed.
Mechanics of the Flog
After seeing a couple of flogs, you will start to spot them and their ads easily. We'll stick with the originators of the flog, diet / acai for now. Here are some of the ads.
Above are some of the more recent ads, most all of which run on display and/or non-Google contextual networks (but not on Facebook).
The flog landing pages come in all shapes in sizes, from the more professionally done to the perhaps intentionally horribly designed. For more detail, see my article on DMConfidential on the Anatomy of a Flog. Pasted below is a fairly common example of what might be considered an upscale diet flog. Over the past few months, I've collected perhaps 50 such sites, with many no longer in existence. They have been in the past simply too easy to put up (and take down) with the astute observer noticing that the same people seem to appear in multiple sites. (See Wafflesatnoon - List of sites and List of personalities for more.)
The Keys to Success
Compare the site above to the landing pages shown earlier, and the flog's power starts to become clear. There are two factors at play with the above site. The first is its power as a mega-jump page. Let's run through a hypothetical example. Everything about the above works better.
- CTR on ads - Flogs will be at least double, a huge starting advantage
- CVR on landing page - A straight click to the original Acai page might generate at best a 2% conversion rate. The CVR on that Acai page after a flog lander will be 4% to 6%
Putting it together we have - Non flog -> 1,000,000 impressions -> .10% CTR -> 100 clicks -> 2 sales
Flog -> 1,000,000 impressions -> .20% CTR -> 200 clicks to Flog lander -> 30% CTR on Flog lander -> 60 clicks to Acai -> 2.4 to 3.6 sales.
Those numbers make the contest seem closer than it ends up being. That is until the Q4 flog innovation comes into play - the multiple product endorsements.
A normal landing page gets one chance to pitch its one product. Not the flogs. They tell a two product story, which makes the math closer to this:
Flog -> 1,000,000 impressions -> .20% CTR -> 200 clicks to
Flog lander -> 30% CTR on Flog lander -> 60 clicks to Acai ->
2.4 to 3.6 sales
20% CTR to Ad 2 -> 40 clicks -> 3% CVR -> 1.2 sales.
Combined you have at least double the performance of the non-flog ad.
That spread, which when applied to other areas, e.g. government grants, became even greater than 2x.
The Good. The Bad. The Shameful.
Besides being tales of fiction that violate the accepted rules for advertising, some of the real violations come from unnapproved brand / celebrity usage. You will see (or would have seen) flogs with names like:
The Rachael Ray Diet
I followed Rachael Ray's advice and
lost over 22 pounds in one month!
The Rachael Ray Diet
I followed Rachael Ray's advice and
lost over 32 pounds in one month!
1 diet rule Jennifer Aniston uses.
Along with the aforementioned laziness that has the same site re-using the same images. (See Wafflesatnoon's List of personalities)
JayWeintraub.com Reader's Special - Government Grant Flog Example!!!
Most recent landing page (still available) - post Facebook slap, Post Google slap, and post FTC inquiry
New Trend - Disclosure (Sort of)
Look at the bottom of many of the more original flogs, and you will find a) nothing, or b) a disclaimer that tries to limit their liability from use of the oprah, Rachel Ray, Dr. Oz, etc. images. It will read something like
All trademarks on this web site whether registered or not, are the property of their respective owners. The authors of this web site are not sponsored by or affiliated with any of the third-party trade mark or third-party registered trade mark owners, and make no representations about them, their owners, their products or services.
Scroll to the bottom of the above page, and you will see something new. A fairly detailed disclosure.
Please keep in mind that I got the grant trials for free, but there is a shipping fee of $2.95 and this advertiser has terms regarding continued billing after trial expires if you do not cancel. This advertiser requires the trial to be canceled within 7 days of the trial period. This grant kit I recommend retails for $68.13. If you enjoy the products, simply do nothing. You will be billed at a discounted price of $68.13 at the end of the free trial period. By signing up YOU UNDERSTAND THAT THIS CONSUMER TRANSACTION INVOLVES A NEGATIVE OPTION AND THAT YOU MAY BE LIABLE FOR PAYMENT OF FUTURE GOODS AND SERVICES, UNDER THE TERMS OF THIS AGREEMENT, IF YOU FAIL TO NOTIFY THE SUPPLIER NOT TO SUPPLY THE GOODS OR SERVICES DESCRIBED. Also, this is a general information site to help you make informed decisions. The stories you read on this site and affiliated sites are 100% fiction. If you have further interest in receiving a government grant I recommend visiting grants.gov. Thanks and good luck with filling your first application
Even if flog volume has declined since its peak, we have yet to see the end of the flog. Legal proceedings have yet to truly begin nor fines levied. They won't go away, but as I fear, they have missed their chance to reach their potential while also managing to yet again give high performance marketing a black eye. There is a real distinction between this type of performance-based marketing and the kind that those with a vested interest in the space perform; unfortunately, in the eyes of Google and others, the two have become closely related. These false positives who will find themselves ensnared in the net preventing them from advertising are a small price to pay for Google but a big price to pay for the online customer acquisition industry. Unfortunately, how can we expect a 23 year old who is all of the sudden making six figures monthly to truly understand and care what the ramifications of their actions will be. When it's time for them to get punished, they will have shut down their site and the cpa network who worked with them will shoulder the burden because they have an office a legislative entity can visit.
P.S. Brian, I know I didn't do a decent job of spell-checking or fixing grammatical errors.