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How to abuse AI to juice affiliate marketing dollars

One of my friends sent me a Futurism article last night that I read this morning, Meet AdVon, the AI-Powered Content Monster Infecting the Media Industry, and boy, did it set off a lot of thoughts.

The company in question here, Advon, apparently had its hooks in lots of media outlets, which doesn’t surprise me. The guy who hired me in 2019 was talking to Advon about setting up a partnership with my new employer at the time. That boss quit my third week, and I became the point of contact, but powerless to sign off on any deals.

Advon wanted to set up Amazon stores using my company’s properties, i.e. every book the news outlet had reviewed/recommended would go into a feed or store set up in that publisher’s name. Some of the business made sense to me.

The thing is, Advon was really pushing to set up this operation called “Dog Gear,” which was a horrible name. “Dog ear?” was the question I got every time I told someone about it. The idea behind Dog Gear was to produce volumes of articles recommending pet-related tools and accessories on Amazon to juice affiliate dollars. Flood the internet with low-quality posts targeting long-tail pet keywords, rise in the rankings, drive clicks to Amazon, et voilà, you’ve got affiliate profits.

Anyway, I met with the founder a handful of times and his partner a few more. The founder is like a supervillain profile: West Point, Army Ranger, HBS, and now we know, willing to do whatever to increase revenue. He projects this all-American charisma, but something felt off to me. The other guy was more the nebbishy, reserved foil who operationalized the plan. It felt out of a movie script or something to me at the time.

I advocated for cutting ties with Advon, which my company eventually did to the best of my knowledge. Advon, in my eyes, was trying to churn out content farm garbage with our name on it. That quick revenue boost would look great until it ruined our reputation in the long run. I didn’t think it was a good idea for the organization.

This whole deep dive into Advon’s AI junk permeating the internet is super interesting. It aligns with what I suspected AI would come for first: The inexpert articles written through internet aggregation with little first-hand experience or vetting. Most people would be grossed out to know how much of Google’s top results work this way, whether a low-paid human or AI produces the article. There are limitations on quality from both human and AI perspectives. Advon was the tip of the spear when it came to AI crap.

There are certainly ethical ways of using AI to improve production and writing processes, but the wholesale reliance on AI with no guardrails on quality seems like a race to the bottom. This article does a great job of exploring the murky and ethics-free race to squeeze a buck out of every opportunity. People at companies like Advon only need to be smarter than the executives they get in bed with, because by the time anyone else realizes what’s happened, they’ve moved on to the next project to fleece somebody.

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