| HBS Working Paper Series
Information and Incentives in Online Affiliate Marketing
We consider alternative methods of supervising staff who have significant discretion and whose efforts are subject to both incomplete information and skewed incentives. Specifically, we examine online affiliate marketing programs in which merchants oversee thousands of affiliates they have never met. Some merchants hire specialist outside advisors to set and enforce policies for affiliates, while other merchants ask their ordinary marketing staff to perform these functions. For clear violations of applicable rules, we find that outside advisors are most effective at excluding the responsible affiliates — which we interpret as a benefit of specialization. However, in-house staff are more successful at identifying and excluding affiliates whose practices are viewed as "borderline" (albeit still contrary to merchants' interests), forgoing the efficiencies of specialization in favor of the better incentives of a company's staff. We consider implications for marketing of online affiliate programs and for online marketing more generally.
Keywords: affiliate marketing;
Information Technology Industry;
Web Services Industry;