Anatomy of a sleazy information product

I think I’ve recovered sufficiently from my ordeal, with sufficient time having passed, that I can talk about it to you now. Back in November 2009 (judging from the file timestamps), I bought an information product. Not just any information product. It’s one of those “how to make money online” products.

SSHHHH!! I hear something… that’s the flapping sound of the spambot vultures! Uh, uh… RAINBOWS! CUTE BABIES! UNICORNS!

Ok, I think I fooled those search engines… for now…

Pitchathon seminars

Where were we? Yes, the uh, information product. I was studying how to uh, let’s use “create online business”. So I got to know this one fellow when I attended a 4-day seminar on Internet businesses. There was another 2-day seminar before that, so it’s 6-days back-to-back. The seminars were like pitchathon fests, where the speakers presented for about an hour, and then at the end, gave a sales pitch. Tens of thousands of dollars changed hands (or at least bank accounts) that day.

I’m not so befuddled by greed and desperation that I fell into their sales funnel, but I can understand the power those speakers held over a willing audience. … Actually, I bought over $400 (Singapore dollars) worth of several CDs, which didn’t turn out to be video presentations but audio ones. “I can’t see that board you mentioned because it’s an audio track!” *sigh* I also got suckered…

Anyway, back to that fellow. I came home and researched on him. And I found he offered a USD 27 dollar product to uh, create an income online. I thought about it hard, calmed myself, and decided to get it. I won’t name the guy nor the product. But a little birdie might just tell you that the product name consisted of the words “autopilot” and “profits”. Just saying.


But I had rules. I would learn what his sales page looked like (so I knew why people bought, and how I wouldn’t get suckered by other such products). I would learn what his sales funnel looked like, because the only way you could learn what that was, was by actually buying a product (so you could go through the entire funnel). I would learn what product he created, and how he created it and so on.

Just so you know, if you see the current date on the page or a count-down timer to when the discount will disappear, the product is highly likely to be sleazy. It’s done with JavaScript, and its purpose is to keep the page looking current so people feel it’s “up to date” and lowers their guard. The count-down timer is to urge people to make a decision fast. “It will be gone by tomorrow!” Humans don’t usually make good decisions on the spot. Come a week later, and you might see that count-down timer still there.

I had a job back then, and so I thought $27 was a cheap enough lesson, even though in my heart, I knew it was a sleazy (enough) information product. Why did I still buy from him then? Because he was a top affiliate marketer (or at least recognised by the other people as so), so he must have done something to get there. I wanted to learn what (morally and ethical) bits of knowledge there was, and how to avoid the sleazy sides of the, uh, let’s call it “industry”.

Sales funnel and affiliate marketing

So some quick definitions. A sales funnel basically comprise of leads/prospects getting to know you, then moving on to a low-priced product, then moving ever deeper into higher-priced products of yours. The conventional definition is strangers getting to know you, then you market to them, building a relationship, and so on until they decide to buy from you, where the funnel closes.

Well, in online marketing, that’s too slow. Their sales funnel encompasses a larger view, that of loyal customers buying (hopefully) higher value (and higher-priced) products and services from you. This is itself, not sleazy. I just want you to know what a sales funnel mean.

As for an affiliate marketer, basically it means someone who sells affiliate products. What kind of affiliate products? You know those Amazon links, where if you click on them and eventually buy that product from Amazon, Amazon will pay the person who provided that link a commission? That’s affiliate marketing. Basically you’re paid a commission for selling other people’s products.

What? You didn’t know that Amazon links are like that? Man do you have a lot to learn… Do you know Google earns money primarily from advertising? “I didn’t know that!” You, my friend, really have a lot to learn…

Amazon’s commission rates are paltry. You think “up to 15%” is a lot? The common commission rate in online marketing circles is by default 50%, sometimes going even to 80% or even 100%. How would anyone earn anything if they give out 100% commission? They have an excellent backend process. They get armies of affiliates (because it’s 100% commission!) and they sell higher-priced items to the customers they eventually get. If you’re interested, you can contact me or leave a comment so I know there’s interest in letting the (tech?) community know more about this particular aspect of the (online) business world.

A $27 business lesson

So, about that $27 information product. Sales page was riddled with big, bold, or highlighted text (sometimes all 3). The headings were meant to lead the reader to excitement and eventually buying the product. The conventional wisdom then was to add so many bonuses that, and I quote, “It would be stupid not to buy” (the quote’s not from this guy by the way). I won’t go into that here because frankly I can’t remember it all, and also because any online marketer doing that now will probably have a hard time (peers and the desensitisation of the audience). Why would anyone still put up with ugly pages and sleazy products? Well, there’s the Nigerian scam. There will always be ignorant people out there.

The product consisted of a PDF file, 8 videos, and a bonus PDF (teaching you about Google AdWords). The videos were Flash videos (.swf), with an HTML file embedding them. They were created with Camtasia, a screen capture software. They were also not created by that online marketer. How do I know? Because the person speaking in those videos was a Caucasian male. That online marketer was a Singaporean Chinese. So don’t give me that calamari about how Americans have shady Internet marketers. Singapore has her fair share too.

Anyway, based on that, I believe he didn’t even create the PDF nor even the whole product. He probably dictated the content, and outsourced that content to be converted into a PDF transcript. He also got the videos outsourced. I’ve heard him speak before, and he’s not fluent in speaking English. Getting a Caucasian to voice the videos solved his speaking problem, and also that a Caucasian voice might make customers feel at ease (I believe many of the customers were American, or at least Caucasian).

During that seminar I attended, he invited his wife on stage. One of the memorable things I heard her say was “I everyday walk here walk there”. In broken Singlish, it means that she doesn’t have anything pressing to do, because her husband is raking in money. The audience, comprising mainly of Singaporeans, took to that with gusto. It was probably why that guy was voted the best speaker, even though I felt there were other speakers who did better.

So how did he rake in money based on just a $27 product? Well, it’s safe to assume that’s not his only product, and his other products might be priced higher. But still, you can make quite a sum from just a $27 product. Remember, he’s an affiliate marketer. “But isn’t this his own product?” Yes, it is. He sold other people’s products within his own product.

I want you to absorb that last sentence for a while.

How an affiliate product works

Let me give you a gist of what that product was about. To be fair, it did contain useful information, to me at that point in time at least. So what it will teach you was to find a profitable niche, satisfy that niche with your product, how to market your product, and how to automate it. And the product did all that. Peppered within the PDF file, were affiliate links to other products. The assumption is that, since the reader has bought this product, the reader “trusts” the information within, and is more likely to trust the information that those links lead to.

If those links lead to $47 dollar products, or $99 per month subscription sites, that’s not really a problem, right? Imagine say 50% commission on all these affiliate links…

Well, the product taught you how to find profitable niches, create products, market your products and product automation. But how do you go about creating that product of yours? Ah, here’s where I felt really disgusted. The author had hinted within the PDF product that he would show you a profitable niche with a hungry audience and how to easily satisfy that niche.

Near the end of the PDF, he said one of the hungriest audience is the “make money online” crowd. AAAHHHH wings flapping! CUDDLY KITTENS! FAIRY LIGHTS! PETRIFICUS TOTALUS!

*whew* And where do you get your product? Right here! This product you’re holding is the product. He even gave you instructions on how to set up your account on ClickBank (a digital product marketplace) so you can start selling right now! And you get a 75% commission out of every sale you make!

Did you see that? I’ll give you a moment to see if you realised it.

Stumped? He just recruited you to be his affiliate. Know that even though he only gets 25% out of your every sale, he still gets 50% (or whatever commission rate he got) out of every sale in the affiliate links inside the product that you are helping him sell.

This is multi-level marketing in the swiftest execution form I know. The only barrier is that ClickBank only allows up to a 2nd level tier commission scheme. This’ll take forever to explain if I also explain the tier system, so I’ll just stop here. But a cursory search online should provide you with answers.

I actually signed up with ClickBank, just to see what it’s all about. And his product was already flooded within ClickBank. The early affiliates had already gotten sales, and the (ClickBank) market was saturated with the product. So I wasn’t going to get any sales.

But it was still an enlightening process. I’m sure the guy is a nice person. I just don’t approve of some of his tactics.