Mobile Affiliate Marketing is Broken (Mostly)!

by Brook Lenox on February 9, 2009


Before I start, let me define an affiliate program, just in case that term is not familiar to you.

Affiliate programs according to Wikipedia are: “an Internet-based marketing practice in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought about by the affiliate’s marketing efforts.”

In this case we are talking about affiliate programs that are promoted over mobile phones and to mobile websites.

 Two things about me:

  • I’ve been working in affiliate marketing for over 10 years (as merchant & affiliate)
  • I’m naturally VERY curious

So I got to thinking about mobile affiliate programs.  You’d think that the space would be less competitive and therefore much easier to find successful, profitable deals.  Affiliate marketing, for the affiliate, is always about how much time or money they have to put forth in order create positive return on their investment.

So here are the questions I tried to answer:

  1. Can people make money on affiliate programs over mobile devices?  Again to clarify, not affilate programs on the web that promote mobile phones or ringtones.
  2. If not, why not?


First test: iTunes

In September 2008, I got accepted into the iTunes affiliate program via Linkshare.  I drove traffic from Admob, a mobile advertising network, to the iTunes store. I was able to confirm that clicks and orders tracked correctly.  So this is indeed not broken.  The problem I have with the iTunes program is that they do not share the individual items that sell, so you have very little data to work from.  That’s very frustrating for affiliates.

Second test:

After talking to the 1-800-Flowers affiliate manager, I found out that they were now promoting both ordering and affiliate marketing via mobile.  Again, I used Admob to drive traffic, but this time ended up with no orders. 

What could be the cause?

  • Could the 385 visitors I sent, just not be interested in ordering?
  • Was the ordering experience on a mobile phone so poor that people just gave up?
  • Could there be some technical issue in tracking?

Talked to 1-800-Flowers a few times, but unfortunately never figured anything out.

Third test: Ringtone Feeder

This time I wanted to test iPhone specific traffic. This was no problem with Admob.  I sent 235 visitors to a company called Ringtone Feeder that has a cool iPhone ringtone subscription service.  I could see clicks when I logged into my Ringtone affiliate account, but again no orders

Klaus, of Ringtone Feeder (who has been very helpful by the way), has been working with me to figure this out.  Based on what he’s seeing on his end, there seems to be some disconnect between Admob and the destination mobile website in tracking the user. 

Is it an http referrer issue? A cookie tracking issue? 

Hopefully we’ll get some answers from Admob soon, but for now we just know it doesn’t work.


While I think that mobile affiliate marketing will be HUGE one day, for now, it seems to have issues.

What do you think?

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

scott howard February 11, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Brook, last year I made a marketing prediction that ties into what you are doing. Perhaps you need to change to offer or the target market:

This is from:

Joe Pulizzi from Junta42 polled content marketers and social media marketers for their best single prediction for 2009 – see the full list of 42 predictions here.

Here is what I would consider the Top 10 predictions from that list David Letterman style.

The Top 10 Marketing Predictions for 2009

Number 10 – Smart brand marketers will reach out via text offers and Twitter offers to the college aged crowd, money saving offers that they can use repeatedly to build brand preferences for the future (by Scott Howard)

scott howard February 11, 2009 at 3:50 pm
Brook Lenox February 16, 2009 at 9:40 pm


I “think” your prediction was about companies marketing their own brands via Twitter. What I’m talking about is how affiliate marketing has not yet made the leap from the web, to the mobile space. Even the companies that are trying to step out with mobile affiliate marketing are missing the mark with poor landing pages & tracking that doesn’t work.


CatchyTech March 8, 2009 at 12:37 am

I am developing mobile sites and have been using admob for some time now to advertise on mobile. I had thousands of impressions and clicks through my site by didn’t earn a cent. I guess there is a problem somewhere along the way.

Brook Lenox March 12, 2009 at 2:59 pm


Sorry about the lack of success with Admob…I’ve found them to be great for acquiring customers at a low cost. I’m not as impressed with using them as a Publisher.

Nathan March 21, 2009 at 5:48 pm

The problem I see with advertising on mobile is that mobile has a list of it’s own problems. It seems to me that their are so many different platforms being developed that it’s hard for one company to be able to advertise to every platform. It’s tough when someones using a flash based mobile device and someone else is using javascript and seeing something quite different sometimes when browsing on the mobile.

Plus, finding a way to be creative with the ads on such a small screen can be daunting. I think the iphone has it made with their iTunes app store, which is why Microsoft is feverishly trying to catch up with their own offerings. Then where does that leave affiliates? Promoting apps?

Brook Lenox March 23, 2009 at 1:46 pm

I agree that so many platforms creates issues for developers. I think at this point you have to choose between developing for WAP or the iPhone platform.

As far as affiliates go, I’m not sure. Like I said, seems to mostly broken at this point.

Lev ( March 24, 2009 at 12:26 am

I started developing with yahoo blueprint when it was just released. It took some effort to put admob ads inside. Later I saw that admob ads don’t pay anything so I wanted to switch to google adsense for mobile, but it’s not available in my country.
My advice about the various platforms is stick with xhtml-mp standards. It will work on any wap2 enabled phone. I moved from yahoo blueprint to xhtml development with because it is problematic to rely on platform that you are not sure of its future. See my blog for info about with mobile CatchyTech Blog

Brook Lenox March 24, 2009 at 4:05 am

Thanks for the thoughts (once again). I”m curious. Have you found anything to replace Admob?

Lev ( March 25, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Found a couple of new mobile advertising companies but haven’t tried them yet.

Brook Lenox March 25, 2009 at 3:14 pm

I looked into, but they had mainly traffic in India, which we weren’t interested in. I’ll look into Buzz City.

Lev April 22, 2009 at 4:08 am

Hi Brook
Did you have a chance to look into Buzz City?
Or perhapse you’ve seen some other advertisement companies?

Brook Lenox April 22, 2009 at 4:01 pm

I need to take a look at Buzz City. I did just get an update from MobPartner that they have a few new programs as well. Plan to check them out.

yan July 28, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Hey Lev, Brook, and Scott.
Are any of you guys still looking at this issue (I realize your posts are from ’09)? I’ve got the same problem getting credit for mobile purchases. Any affiliate programs you guys have found that can actually track this?


~ Yan

Brook Lenox August 13, 2010 at 8:29 am

@Yan – I’ve used Linkshare recently for tracking some things, BUT they still don’t track to the item level. So no, I’ve found no silver bullets (yet) for mobile affiliate marketing. Let me know if you have or do!

Matt L September 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm

I’ve had dreadful results sending people to even the easiest to complete mobile offers (e.g. a state-submit auto insurance offer with about as straightforward and explanatory ad as you could imagine – not a single person out of about 500 clicks even submitted their state? c’mon…) I’ve tried click to call, and a multitude of other offers. The only one I ever got to convert on a consistent basis was an IQ test, which was a mobile service offer. Cheap clicks, yes, but about 1/2 of admob clicks vanish into thin air before hitting tracking on an offer (either my LP analytics or even when I direct link), and then count the low intention of buying or even giving up lead gen type info, and it’s a tough, tough nut to crack. Even in 2010.

Brook Lenox September 9, 2010 at 2:39 pm

@Matt L – agreed. Mobile affiliate stuff is still mostly a mess.

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