Recently, my advertising agency ended a long relationship with Affiliate Marketing.  And I’m relieved.

Last week I caught an episode of “Mad Men” which in turn caused me to have what I can only describe as a Don Draper moment. If you don’t watch this fantastic TV show about an ad agency in the 60’s – where have you been? The gorgeous women, sweet hairstyles, 60’s lingo and throwback advertising should be reason enough to watch. Beyond that, Mad Men is all about Don Draper.

Like many of you in the affiliate marketing world, I admire Don Draper’s character – specifically his passion for capturing the hearts and minds of his clients by wowing them with unique advertising campaigns. You see, it’s not about the money with him, it’s about the creative, it’s about his name; it’s about ideas translating into success for his agency Sterling Cooper. Draper is the creative director and marketing magician of his agency, sacrificing his time for the thrill of the hunt and the pleasure of the kill. It’s something I’m personally inspired by.

You may recall the episode where Don put out a full page ad in the NY Times titled “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” – his  attempt to publicly take the moral high ground in tobacco advertising while simultaneously taking his bat and ball, calling the game and going home. His gray haired partners Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper just about lost their minds when they saw the morning paper. They were convinced he committed industry suicide. It turned out to be that which kept the sinking ship afloat.

As a marketing agency for the past 11 years, I have delivered large scale success and filled the massively large coffers of hundreds of advertisers via thousands of offers, models and mediums. This has been what I love, why I wake up in the morning and what I am passionate about. I wouldn’t consider myself dull but that first affiliate conversion can be more exciting than snowboarding 40mph down a black diamond.

That being my M.O, my described ‘Don Draper moment’ came recently when I was ‘aggressively’ persuaded to run an offer with an unnamed affiliate network. Like any week, I had a lean, mean marketing strategy. Creative was all dolled-up. Market research was back and analyzed. The media buys were locked and loaded.

We were ready to fly!

Just prior to launch, the affiliate network asked me to divulge literally every aspect of my marketing effort. That wasn’t the deal we made! The network proceeded to assure me this was for their eyes only and it wouldn’t be shared internally (we can save that topic for another article).

Now if you know me, you also know that I am not in the business of putting myself ‘out of business’ or ‘into competition’ on any level – and I wasn’t about to do so this round either. My frustration wasn’t about intellectual property or getting ripped off by nets/pubs (yet another article); my frustration was deeper than that.

My reaction was straight up Don Draper…I was frustrated; I insulted their business, lectured them, told them to pass a condescending message on to their client and then dropped the symbolic ‘you’re fired.’ Then I realized how futile that whole exchange was without resorting to a stiff glass of rye whiskey at 11 a.m. I was perturbed because I had a sure fire strategy for them and wasn’t about to forfeit it for nothing. It was a game changer, the type that MUST stay internal.

So you say, “come on, Isabella”…The network was simply communicating to you the extensive needs of their prize advertiser.  Like a good advertiser’s network – I assume the compliance dog started loudly barking, they enforced the new campaign requirements, even if it came to you too late…Bravo to them for running a tight ship!

I get it. Which one of you super affiliates out there hasn’t been asked to uncomfortably strip down and bare all while trying to do… whatever it is that you do, day to day, to keep these mysterious relationships alive and profitable. I get it. I’m with you.

Regardless of non-compete clauses and network promises, it was just the last straw for me…and part of my Don Draper moment came in the form of a ringing question, over and over:

What’s an idea worth?

It’s certainly a Draper’ish question.

For those super affiliates – which respectfully – aren’t in the creative game, this question isn’t posed to you. To the IM world’s math geniuses, savants and volume guys who play the ‘law of averages ‘ and arbitrage that twenty cents on the dollar – wash, rinse & repeat – I’m not really speaking to you.

I’m talking to those of us who are passionate about the craft, in conjunction with IM and all of its many fun facets. Like pioneering new products in new markets and getting back that illusive feeling of breaking ground unbroken – enjoying the hunt, the new process, the kill and relishing in the fact that you created something profitable and sexy from pure creative intuition. I’m talking to you. Marketers like me – addicted to the artistic satisfaction of building a successful marketing campaign and delivering eye-opening results.

You are who I’m speaking to because what is all of your creative energy really worth?

What is the dollar value of your precious time and vast industry experience? What is all your day-dreaming, shower thinking, ‘outside of the box’ strategizing,  trendy-article reading, commercial watching, social-media monitoring…What is this worth –  to all of these clients – which we are making so successful year to year.

For a super affiliate, ideas are worth their weight in gold, a corny but ironic metaphor for ‘ideas are completely worthless’. Your creativity could potentially be worth less than zero to many of the advertisers you jump on with.

 Follow me for a minute…

You could spend days, if not weeks of your finite time on a campaign, buying media, paying payroll, spending on creative, tracking, etc., and even if you happen to convert an affiliate offer a million times over, you could still potentially be running at a loss, regardless of your client’s results. You might as well offer your partners a ‘pro bono’ direct response marketing & consultancy package.

Having been that guy, I’m just not OK with that.

On a Friday morning a few years ago, I was thinking of new ways to convert a huge budget offer.  It came to me; it was purely a creative angle, just click to convert. I built out a marketing strategy, made simple creatives, tested the math against the volume, it was RIGHT on target. By Monday morning I had pulled down revenue of over $87,000. That same morning the advertiser cut me out, and had me paid within a week.

I wasn’t happy about that at all. Within 1 week or so I saw the same ad, on the same placement – and the strategy coming from their internal source. They admired my idea so much that they built out their own model around my weekend run. Of course, they are wildly successful to this day, running a marketing strategy I had the distinct pleasure of introducing them to as a lowly affiliate.

How flattering, right? Not at all. What a wasted opportunity.

Regardless of the volume you send to an advertiser, 1 sale or 1,000,000 sales, you will not be compensated for ideas and services as a ‘creative department rental’ – you will be paid zero for valuable creative, insight, data and all other benefits delivered to your advertiser. We super affiliates have industry changing creativity; fresh ideas we put to work, yet we are almost never justifiably compensated for it. We often create new paradigms in marketing yet we just accept the terms of some affiliate agreement and collect an affiliate check.

Some super affiliates make money as IM teachers or as they are called “Gurus.” They come at it from a different angle. They teach, instruct, coach, advise – they rarely ‘do.’ We need those guys; they keep their finger on the pulse of the IM industry and create successful, profitable followings. They make a living on their name. Most of us don’t.

Affiliates have no names. Our names are publisher IDs. Sometimes we even have more than one. We occasionally exist as throw-away accounts, purposely insulated from advertisers to produce results for our affiliate networks. We are nameless. As nameless publishers we are only relevant while on top of our game and until the stats die down.

I’m over being nameless and without ownership. I’m not just a publisher ID.

My valuable work is getting lost in someone else’s portfolio under the tab “successful campaigns” and that’s just not acceptable for me anymore.

No name super affiliates who are ‘on top’ always remind me baseball players. There is a painful saying for pitchers. “You are only as good as your last outing.”

Let me use the name R.A Dickey for example.

Many of you just imagined a bearded NY Mets knuckleballer holding up the 2012 N.L Cy Young award. It’s true! The NY Mets beloved R.A Dickey won the 2012 NL CY Young award – in 2012.

2013 has been painfully different. He has been awful for the Toronto Blue Jays  under his brand new 2 year, 25 million dollar contact. Now the name R.A Dickey reminds many of a 39 year old who gives up monster home runs. Regardless, his name is attached to his work.  He has a name. The Blue Jays don’t take credit for his nasty knuckleball. That’s on him, he owns that.

With all of that said about ideas- to answer my own question, “what’s an idea worth?”

Ideas are worth what you charge for them and if you are a traditional publisher, you probably charge nothing.  In reality, your ideas are worth whatever someone is willing to pay or (in affiliate marketing) whatever the ROI is – after you have implemented and run your campaign.

That’s Why I’m Quitting Affiliate Marketing.

Truly there are many more reasons why I must quit affiliate marketing but none of them has to do with the common excuses of over saturation or market-share decline. I’m not going there.

Look, I remember when there were only 100 or so coveted affiliates at our Super Ballin’ conventions. It ain’t that, fellas.

Affiliate marketing didn’t outgrow me, I out grew it and I’m man enough to admit that I’m in the wrong business.

The hard truth is I have been on the wrong side of an industry with too few sides to be on – and none of which really satisfies (regardless of the money).

My friends,

like the fictional Don Draper who inspired me,

I’m done.

I’m done donating my blood, sweat and soul to wildly successful companies.

My ideas are worth millions and I’m tired of giving my services away for peanuts via affiliate marketing campaigns.

I’m fed up with paying to be a creative marketing department ‘rental’ for another Fortune 500ish company – many of which, if I’m not meticulous about the contract – will leave me with essentially a 3rd party advertising bill.

Like most of my marketing ideas, I found a ‘simple’ solution to the problem I was wrestling with.

I had to rename my company Wave7 Media Consulting and get back to the heart of what I enjoy. The affiliate campaigns had to be traded in for a more suitable outlet for valuable, unique marketing ideas. Now I can measurably give my clients what they need to be holistically successful while meeting their marketing goals.

Lately, my focus has shifted to affiliate campaign consulting as well as mobile strategy for traditional online marketing. Working with small to midsize clients has been an intensive, exciting transition.

I am available to select companies which have need for creative offer creation, unique marketing ideas, property branding, mobile reach, social media connection, user acquisition and overall quality results.

What's your opinion?