Gadget blogs have exploded today with what seems like countless articles chastising Amazon.com for baiting customers with their Google ads that read "iPhone 5 at Amazon.com". If the ads are still running, and you'd like to see for yourself, simply search for "iphone 5" in Google or even "iphone five". Up will pop a Google Adwords advertisement similar to the one seen below, proclaiming the availability of the iPhone 5 at Amazon.com. Of course, clicking on the ad will take you to a search page on Amazon.com that simply shows results for a variety of iPhone related accessories that may or may not also have the word "five" somewhere in their descriptions. This type of crack investigation has led many to scold Amazon for stooping to such underhanded bait and switch advertising. Closer inspection suggests these ads likely aren't the doing of Amazon itself.
One might ask themselves why multi-billion dollar retailer Amazon.com would risk offending multi-billion dollar manufacturer Apple in order to hopefully grab a few $12 accessory sales on the sly by baiting customers to their site. The likely, and seemingly valid, answer is that they wouldn't.
The ads are bogus. That is to say they're not Amazon's doing. Sure, they take you to Amazon.com. The ad even shows "amazon.com" as the destination URL. However, there's nothing stopping anyone from running this ad and linking it to Amazon.com. That's right, anyone can sign up for a Google Adwords account, create the exact ad seen above and cause the sort of stink that's resulted from the ad in question.
But why would anyone spend money advertising on Amazon's behalf? There are countless possible reasons, including a competitor trying to generate bad PR for Amazon, a prankster with flush pockets, who knows? However, those explanations are both risky and unlikely, amongst other things. In this case, the motivation is the most obvious one -- money.Careful inspection of the actual target URL (not the display URL) of the advertisements in question, shown below, reveals the target of this ad to be an Amazon Associates URL. Amazon Associates is Amazon's affiliate program, which allows members to generate links to Amazon products, pages, or search results and receive a commission from sales that are generated. While these links are typically used by affiliate marketers on web sites to link to Amazon from, for example, an article about a new HD LCD television, there's nothing stopping anyone from using these links wherever they choose.
This appears to be the genesis of the advertisements in question. In this case, this Amazon affiliate (ID googhydr-20) has generated a commissionable link to the Amazon.com search results page for the keyword search "iphone 5".
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However, some ambiguity remains. For one thing, while the "tag=" URL parameter is usually a giveaway, identifying an Amazon.com URL as one generated by an affiliate marketer, the URL format does bear some dissimilarities to the standard Amazon Associates generated URL. Also, if affiliate "googhydr-20" is responsible, they are a massively active affiliate for Amazon. Virtually every product search you can imagine turns up an "
Chances are, it is the former, and this affiliate is wading in risky waters by bringing so much attention on their own search marketing efforts. Search marketing is a notorious grey area for affiliate marketers, one that can reap great financial rewards, or harsh penalties if rules are broken. If so, it also begs the question whether Amazon.com should remain so open with its search marketing policy as it pertains to its affiliates. Should Amazon's affiliates be able to freely bait users with ads proclaiming the availability of a product at Amazon.com, only to visit the site to begin a wild goose chase? Is Amazon.com giving its affiliates too free a license in order to reap free advertising from third party search marketing efforts?
There is no official word yet from Amazon on whether they, or one of their affiliates, is responsible for the iPhone 5 advertisements.