Case Study Analysis: iHerb Tackles Bad-Actor Affiliates

Monisha Ray Dec 15, 2020

BrandVerity’s Paid Search Monitoring solution has allowed iHerb to catch rule-breaking partners across a global program, protecting Marketing spend from payouts to unearned commissions. 

iHerb is one of the largest US-based e-commerce retailers, offering 30,000 products from 1,200 top brands to millions of customers around the world. iHerb ships directly from GMP certified, state-of-the-art, climate-controlled warehouses to customers in 188 countries and territories. Since 1996, iHerb has continued to innovate in bringing the highest quality products, at the best possible value, delivered with the most convenient customer experience.

We had no idea the extent of the problem of bad actor affiliates in our program. By using BrandVerity’s Paid Search Monitoring tool and working with their analyst team, we discovered persistent threats and super sophisticated violators who would have otherwise been impossible for us to uncover.
- Ed Hsu, Affiliate Marketing Manager, iHerb

iHerb signed up to use BrandVerity’s Paid Search monitoring solution in early 2018. At this point, they suspected they might have a problem with compliance in their partnership program, but lacked full visibility into all non-compliant activity across their global network. Within the first few months of using BrandVerity’s monitoring tool, the volume of data captured revealed the full extent of the problematic behavior. BrandVerity was immediately able to flag both Brand-Bidding non-compliance as well as more targeted Ad-Hijacking violations from partners who were impersonating iHerb’s own ad campaigns in order to claim undeserved commissions. 

Especially for a rapidly growing, global program like this, it becomes nearly impossible to monitor compliance manually at scale. 

To put this into perspective, let's use iHerb as an example.

The iHerb affiliate program spans 188 different countries, each with unique, native-language preferences and reaching across many different time zones. To try and manually audit such a wide scope of advertiser activity would require multiple Affiliate Managers to conduct test searches around the clock to mimic localized search environments and keyword queries. This quickly snowballs into a monumental amount of time invested for just a glimpse of the total, potential violations actively running - compounded by the fact that very sophisticated bad-actors target slight misspellings of brand keywords or use narrow geo-targeting and day-parting techniques with the assumption they won’t be caught during a manual compliance audit. In addition, Ad-Hijacks from partners are extremely difficult to identify without third party monitoring tools since these campaigns often look identical to legitimate, brand-run campaigns on the search result page. Without a deeper investigation of the referring URLs present in the ad redirect path, these ad-hijacks could easily go unnoticed. This ultimately results in commission payouts given to rule-breaking partners, which rewards violators without any consequence.

By using BrandVerity, iHerb is able to choose which search locations to target for their compliance monitoring and specify relevant search terms for the country being monitored. The rest of the work is handled by the BrandVerity tool, which automatically searches every keyword in the selected countries at a chosen daily search frequency, spaced evenly throughout each 24-hour period. Even more granularly, every keyword search is performed from a randomized location within the selected country. Meaning: if a particularly nefarious bad-actor is running a narrow campaign that targets just a few city-level locations to avoid detection, BrandVerity will be able to uncover this activity. These automated searches generate a summary report of all potential ad violations found and contain granular detail about each ad instance to assist enforcement outreach.

Gaining visibility into the extent of noncompliance in your partner program usually comes with a big perspective shift. Thankfully, BrandVerity doesn’t leave you to fend for yourself. In the case of iHerb, the Affiliate team was able to uncover even the most complex partner violations by leveraging BrandVerity’s Customer Success and Analyst teams for maximized insights on account data. This leverage is an essential component of the Paid Search service, especially for identifying advanced Ad-Hijacks that use masking techniques to obscure their Affiliate IDs. iHerb has integrated the BrandVerity team into their compliance workflow, leveraging in-depth investigations from the Analyst team to reveal partner identities behind these sophisticated violations. By adopting the Investigation Request function within BrandVerity’s Paid Search tool, iHerb and the Analyst team were able to identify 90% of the most complex Affiliate Ad-Hijacks found in 2020 alone, using advanced unmasking techniques. 

Ultimately the cost of using a compliance tool is easily outweighed by the overwhelming benefits that come with automation - through the time saved on manual compliance work, savings on commissions reversed from catching determined violators, and the increased control over how your brand is promoted online. iHerb is an excellent example of a global brand that was able to reclaim and scale their affiliate compliance process through BrandVerity, saving close to $100K in the process just from potential commission payouts to violators. What could be a daunting task becomes manageable and easy to mitigate with the assistance of BrandVerity, and gives brands the essential visibility needed to enforce compliance for their programs holistically. 

To read our full iHerb case study, download it here!


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