A few days ago in my "Monday Question" post about cleaning up internet marketing, I mentioned Sylvie Fortin's Internet Marketing Sins. If you haven't read it, please go there and get your copy now (it's free -- no opt-in required).

Back in 2008, Sylvie published Internet Marketing Sins, listing 15 practices that she believed were ruining internet marketing -- hurting the reputations even of honest marketers who weren't using them, because of how they affected people's perceptions of internet marketing as a whole. Here's the list:

  • Sleight of Hand Continuity
  • Upsell Hell
  • Limited Time Offers
  • Hammerhead Marketing
  • Feast or Famine Marketers
  • Me Too Marketers
  • Piggy Back Marketers
  • Lazy Ass Marketers
  • Cult Leaders
  • Guru Bashers
  • Teleseminar Idiots
  • Brainless Freebie Seekers
  • Coaching Addicts
  • Time Sucking Vampires
  • Slave Owners

Since then, the FTC has cracked down on the first item in the list, sleight of hand continuity, and the related practices of free introductory offers with automatic rebilling. The unfortunate result has been that people who used free introductory offers legitimately (with full and clear disclosure beforehand) have been forced to abandon a successful business model.

In her discussion of sleight of hand continuity, Sylvie mentions three continuity models: continuity, forced continuity, and hidden continuity. Hidden continuity (where customers are rebilled without ever having been told that would happen) is clearly unethical, and I believe even illegal.

In forced continuity, you have to sign up for some continuity offer in order to buy a related product (but you can cancel before being rebilled). I understand that forced continuity causes problems when consumers skim the offer so quickly that they miss even blatantly clear disclosure of the terms of the sale (seriously, you could explain in 50 point, red, blinking letters, and some people would miss it), or forget to cancel before being rebilled.

Reader Comment:
Jason said:
Good post there are a lot of bad apples in our industry unfortunately that use shady techniques. But there are also tons of honest legitimate marketers who do things right on the up and up and those marketers need to be commended.
(join the conversation below)

But I can't agree completely with Sylvie's views on forced continuity.

She argues:

Are You Ashamed Of Your Continuity Offer?

If you aren’t ashamed of what you’re selling, then why ... are you acting like you are?

...you’re acting as if your continuity offer is something that NEEDS to be slipped in the back door, when if you really stand behind your products you would proudly yell from the rooftops that your product is the most awesome thing in the world and you are proud to sell it!

If you're trying to "slip [your continuity product] in the back door", then yes, I'd take issue with that.

But there are products whose value is best "explained" by letting the customer experience it. That's what the free or inexpensive trial offer is all about: "I've got this fantastic product that I know you're going to love, and I'm so confident that you're going to love it and keep paying for it that I'm willing to let you take your first taste on my dime."

With such products, it may be difficult to convince people to sign up even for the free trial. But if you "force" them to take it when they buy a related product (pre-qualifying them as a good prospect), then they'll get the taste that tells them more than a 10,000 word sales letter ever could.

At the end of Part 3 of the report, Sylvie asks people to "support only those marketers who are willing to publicly take a pledge against the sins," and the final segment of the report emphasized this request.

Forced continuity may have been the only thing in the report that I wasn't willing to pledge never to do (I didn't see any others when I skimmed it just now, but there may have been more). I certainly would have been willing to pledge never to do hidden continuity. But all it took was one detail to prevent me from being able to honestly take such a pledge.

And since I wasn't willing to go all in and take the pledge, Sylvie was asking people not to do business with me. And that is the one reason why I didn't promote Internet Marketing Sins at the time.

I have to wonder how much the spread of Internet Marketing Sins was hampered by small details like that.

While I'm still not willing to make the pledge Sylvie asks for, I do agree with almost everything she said. I hope you'll read the report and make sure that your approach to internet marketing is ethical.