RMN’s Morphed Meaning

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How Retail Media Networks are (or aren’t) changing the affiliate game.

Written by Brook Schaaf

At one point in time, if you wrote the letters RMN, an affiliate marketer would readily know you were referring to the coupon site RetailMeNot. Today’s typical marketer, affiliate or otherwise, would think first of Retail Media Networks, display networks run by on- and offline sellers (marketplaces or retailers), primarily for products they sell. While RetailMeNot is doing just fine — currently ranked by SimilarWeb as 751st in the U.S. and 13th in the Coupons and Rebates category — it’s hard to compete for mindshare with something relatively new that has had so much growth and buzz. 

I confess RMNs were barely on my radar before last year. But with EMARKETER projecting retail media ad spend of almost $60 billion in 2024, it’s no wonder RMNs are stealing the spotlight.

In his list of RMNs’ challenges and opportunities for affiliate marketing, the ever-thoughtful Jim Nichols writes, “A great deal of money is being sucked out of the tradigital media channels and is surely affecting affiliate investment.”

The primary criticism of RMNs mirrors that of coupon sites — i.e., the customer might have bought anyway but got tracked to the ad because of an affirmative click-through on his or her part. I don’t know that this will persuade marketers of the value of coupon sites (or ultimately poison RMNs) but it’s worth keeping in mind as things play out.

The main challenge Nichols identifies is competition for budget: “Affiliates may face increased competition for advertising budgets and diminished opportunities to monetize their content through affiliate links.”

The main opportunity Nichols identifies is that advertisers might pay more to affiliates to get traffic to their sites because “retail merchants are under pressure to grow their site traffic to enhance the value of their RMN programs.” 

Both of the above are plausible, though the competition for budget might transpire more easily than advertisers paying more to get traffic to their sites. The latter, however, might mean a net win for affiliate. Here is my thinking: Affiliate has proven itself resilient with an effective firewall against other channels because of its deep relationship net and inherent profitability. Any experienced executive should be loath to cut these things away. (Where they aren’t working, they have probably already been cut away.) If advertisers become more like publishers, however, the generosity of commissions may well increase. If only merchants of a certain size can take advantage, that will still provide pressure on smaller merchants to offer more generous commissions. Of course, smaller merchants may also be able to participate in larger RMNs in the future. 

Thus, on the balance, I see it as a short-term minor negative, possibly as a longer-term opportunity. Whatever else happens, it will take oxygen out of the room for the affiliate space this year.

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