Is Internet Marketing Sleazy?

May 17th, 2006 by Bob Bly

JF seems to think so.

He was one of the people on my list who received my e-mail with the subject line: “Do you know these response-boosting secrets?”

The e-mail linked to a page where I was selling an audio learning program titled “Ultimate Direct Response Secrets.”

“When I was starting out, you were one of the people I admired and touted as a great source of information on marketing,” complained JF. “Recently, you’ve become a tireless shill for products purporting to show how to make money on the Internet.”

JF says that in my e-mail, you “offer to reveal the answers … and then direct me to a Web site that offers no answers other than to shill for yet another of your products that will contain the answers.”

He then asks: “What happened to giving some stuff away for free?”

JF is of the school that says all information on the Internet should be free.

He also seems to think that selling information products online is inherently sleazy.

What do YOU think? Am I a scum-bucket like JF says? Or is it perfectly OK for me to e-mail people on my opt-in lists notifying them of my new information products?

P.S. Had JF Googled “Bob Bly,” he would have come to my main Web site with about 50 free articles on all aspects of marketing. He also gets my monthly e-newsletter packed with marketing tips, for which he pays nothing.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 17th, 2006 at 12:57 pm and is filed under General, Online Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

60 responses about “Is Internet Marketing Sleazy?”

  1. Jason Clegg said:

    It’s understandable that JF would have such a knee-jerk reaction to yet another email trying to sell him something, especially since spam is so common now.

    But JF must remember the difference between an “opt in” message and *spam.* There is an exchange involved with opt-in email that benefits both the sender and the receiver. If JF is enticed by the “teaser,” then he can learn more by purchasing complete information. If uninterested, there is always the delete button – or, more to the point, the “Opt Out” option.

  2. Jim Logan said:

    The expectation of everything being free is nonsense. You’re in business to make money – you sell copy writing services, books, courses, and refer products you believe of good quality. Your products are quality and as such you are not a sleaze.

    People on your opt-in list (I’m one of them) should expect to be solicited to buy products you offer. Mixing the solicitation with the free stuff is part of the deal.

    Maybe you’re being associated with peers that offer little for free and do nothing but spew hype to buy their next product. There are a lot of well known people out there that do nothing but sell, sell, sell.

    The world is jaded. And rightfully so. There seems to be a lot of ezines, blogs, and one page websites out there based on gimmicks, tricks, and straw man arguments to sell products. I’ve never known you to be part of that.

  3. Steve Porcaro said:


    I agree with Jim we use the internet as a medium just to like TV, radio, or newspapers to advertise our products and services.

    If you are a true student and want to learn things you have to spend some money not all your money some money. Because as I have noticed once you purchase some products you really get into the sales pitches from other products and you can pick up alot of information if you “THINK”

    You books are in the library that our taxes pay for. Nothing is FREE everything has a cost. JF will never learn how to serve! and will continue to be frustrated!

    You provide quite a bit of FREE content on your site that is very useful, extremely useful. However the person looking at your FREE information needs to READ, THINK, and APPLY. Everyone is looking for that quick secret to catapult them.

    He does not see that what has made you so valuable is the FREE stuff you have provided that serves people, and then people decided that you have they knowledge they are looking for and pay you for more!

    Keep up the great work!

  4. Joel Heffner said:

    Receiving free information was really nice. It would be nice if that could continue. However, I understand that Bob (and everyone else) has bills to pay and is entitled to making money. Although I find it somewhat annoying to get the information product info, I recognize that it is part of the real world. I’m certainly not annoyed enough to opt-out of Bob’s list.


  5. Linda Abraham said:

    It sounds like JF may be the kind of subscriber you don’t want on your list.

    You have quality insights and products. You have honed your skills over years of hard work. Your books are some of the best out there. You have a right to charge for access to your expertise and talents.

    JF has to understand that your sharing some information freely is a way of demonstrating that expertise so that you can sell revenue-generating products. If he isn’t willing to consider the occasional marketing piece, then you don’t need him.

  6. Jay Gilmore said:

    Many of the big internet marketing millionaires persist in the “sign up to learn (enter marketing/copywriting method name here)” only to find out that you will receieve an almost daily contentless sales pitch for an information product that is sold merely on testimonials from cohorts and affilliates — never to even get a glimpse of the final product or intact content(other than a photos of the numerous cd’s, dvds or artist renderings of the ebook).

    Many of these email pitches will entice you to check out this landing page and that landing page, watch this video or that video, listen to this important message from (enter other marketing millionaire name here) and still offer nothing more than an offer.

    While I feel that people who develop information products should get paid for it, those who have to resort to misleading people to sign up for a sales pitch in the guise of free information should should quit it or cough up the content they said they would.

    This practice has made me cynical of even the most well known marketing and copywriting experts because they rarely give you any real content and continue to pitch without a full preview.

    My thought for a solution is that if these marketers gave away just 5 or 10% of their product and the recipient/subscriber actually saw a marked effect that conversions would go through the roof. If, instead they continue down this path of *ads in content’s clothing* people will eventually say, “Enough.”


  7. Dianna Huff said:

    To answer your question with another question, what is your definition of an “opt-in” list? I subscribed to your newsletter, which I’ve been getting for years. Does the fact I subscribed to your e-zine mean you now have permission to send me (or anyone) sales pitches for products?

    I don’t like it when companies send me unsolicited email. My husband took me out for a lovely brunch on Mothers Day at a country club. I entered the raffle for Boston Red Sox tickets (email address required! it said on the form). I received my first unrequested email message from them today touting green fee discounts.

    This is one reason I specifically state on my newsletter page that subscribers will *only* receive my newsletter.

    BTW, I don’t care if you pitch your products in your newsletter. I expect that.

    Dianna Huff

  8. Bob Bly said:

    DH: Why is it OK for me to promote one of my products to my list — but not, say, one of yours, even though you know I am a big fan of yours and love everything you write?

  9. Julius said:

    JF I can tell by your post that you’re a pathetic loser. My question to you is, why in the hell would you ever want to learn tips and tricks from someone who is considered to be one of the most persuasive and prolific copywriters to ever grace the western free-enterprise if you don’t like the fact that… oh my goodness, he sells stuff to people?

    What do you think a copywriter does? Think about it shit for brains. What do you intend to do with your copy skills once and if (a big if) you ever acquire them? Hmmm… No, really, what are you going to do, write specifically targeted, provacative, psychologically charged, persuasive copy that grabs your readers by the eye balls, hook them in and then simply give stuff away for free without ever having the bullocks to ask for a sale. What are you some sort of philanthropist or something? Way to “pay it forward” jackass. Don’t insult this profession and don’t insult Mr. Bly.

    As for the rest of us, or at least me anyway, I will use the art and science of copy to bring cash in for my ego, my family’s sustenance, personal enjoyment and whatever else I choose to do with it.

    Someone the likes of you should be so lucky to have been sent an offer by Mr. Bly. Guess what… If you want a free lesson in copywriting, read his offer as carefully as you can ’cause he’s just sent you a live demonstration of what copy is all about. If you still don’t understand what I’m saying, go jump in a lake.

    By the way, can someone please send me that letter to ? I’d like to follow my own advice and alas I can’t find the offer for the “Ultimate Direct Response Secrets” in my inbox.

  10. Dianna Huff said:


    Why can’t you promote your products to my list (i.e. send them an email from your server). Because email isn’t direct mail and the practices are different. And two, because I don’t rent out my email list. It’s a high-quality, double opt-in list and when people sign up for my newsletter, I specifically state I don’t give their information to anyone.

    You know I’m one of your biggest fans and have often promoted your products in my e-zine. :-)

    Dianna Huff

  11. robin seidner said:


    I have to say that I agree with Diana. When I signed up for your e-newsletter, I assumed I would receive just a newsletter. You didn’t ask me if I wanted to get info about your products, just whether I wanted your newsletter. Meanwhile, all I have received (besides my bonus reports, thanks for that) is the promotion referenced above. I assumed this was an edition of the newsletter. It was not, and frankly, I was disappointed. Its one thing to promote your products in your newsletter (great, successful tactic), but unless you tell people this is an advertisement email (as required by CAN-SPAM) I would expect more upset subscribers. The email could easily be re-written to make it understood as a “Buy Now” opportunity. Instead, as a newsletter subscriber, I had no idea that I was being led to click through for a sales pitch. You don’t give people a way to unsubscribe from just promos, so its either get everything or nothing. This is perfectly fine and legal, but I expect that as a trust builder, you might find it better to offer people the option of just subscribing to the newsletter, or promos, or both (or none).

  12. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Bob –

    Are you a scum-bucket?
    Absolutely not.
    1000% no.
    In my experience, you are a genuinely nice and extraordinarily decent man. I have always appreciated your willingness to give me a moment or two of your time, and I have always felt I got WAY more than my money’s worth from the many books of yours I’ve bought over the years. I love how you always tell the truth in your writing about how to be a better commercial writer – you have always seemed to understand that (as Roy Williams says) the ring of truth is easily recognized. Because I heard that, I trusted — and do trust — you.

    Is it perfectly OK for you to e-mail people on your opt-in lists notifying them of your new information products?
    Your new products … absolutely!
    If it’s a Bob Bly product, I want to hear about it.

    I have noticed, though, that your last couple of ezines do seemed stuffed with other people’s products.
    And while there’s nothing wrong with that ethically – at all! – it does get a little bit overwhelming.
    (So many resources, not enough time to even read, let alone digest, ’em.)

    Are you familiar with Oprah’s magazine, “O?”
    In it, she always has a segment called (I’m paraphrasing) “Things I Think Are Great.”

    Maybe something along those lines would work for you.

    Because if there’s something you like a lot, I want to hear about it.
    And I have no problem if you get a commission for the recommendation.
    But a little of that goes a long way.
    Everything else is actually advertising, and should be presented as such.

  13. Direct Response Works said:

    […] Bob Bly had a post a couple weeks ago that’s held my thoughts for several days now. His post is titled Is Internet Marketing Sleazy? The part of his post that’s stuck in my mind is the thought of what’s free and what’s for fee on the Internet. How much information should you give away and how much should hold until you’re paid? JF seems to think so. […]

  14. Damian said:

    The mindset for internet marketing is always changing and will continue to do so. Many of those trying to pursue fortunes online are constantly chasing after the next big thing, but are failing to build the core of their businesses.

    Some say that traffic is all you need…That is only part of the equation. You can have all the traffic in the world coming to your web site, but if your web site never converts any of that traffic, then you are wasting both your time and your money.

    Others say that you just need good content and you will succeed…You can have the best content in the world, but if no one can find it and it does not compel them to take some form of action, then your expenses will continue to be more than your income.

    In order to succeed, you need to formulate a strategy that incorporates strong and compelling content, high visibility on the internet, and a long term strategic plan of attack for success.

    Marketing Made Simple

  15. Jeff Houdyschell said:


    I think it’s fine to promote products in your newsletter. If you do it too much without providing useful information, then your subscribers will eventually let you know by opting out. Just as you have the right to do what you want with your newsletter people like JF have the right not to read it.

    Don’t let people like JF worry you, keep up the good work!

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  24. What’s your definition of an “opt-in” email list? | DH Communications said:

    […] your definition of an “opt-in” email list? Print This Post TweetCopywriter Bob Bly posted in his blog last week that one of his subscribers took him to task for sending email touting the products he sells. Bob […]

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