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DigitalMoses: The Man. The Myth. The Willms.

Written on
May 27, 2011 
Author
Gavin Dunaway  |

ADOTAS – Not long ago we covered the not unexpected but still unpleasant litigation taking place against several in the performance marketing world for their role in facilitating continuity offers, primarily in the health arena, in a manner that the FTC has deemed unacceptable. On that list was one of the largest affiliates. It wasn’t until the FTC made its suits available that the scope of his activity became known.

As written in MediaPost first, the FTC has accused Canadian marketer Jesse Willms of netting more than $467 million. If the FTC is correct, Willms earned more than LinkedIn. The problem for Willms, though, is that the FTC believes he earned this money illegally.

Willms is one of these legendary arbitrage/performance-based/affiliate marketing stories, a then teenager who started to figure out the secrets to making money online. Now, at the ripe old age of 24, his activities have grossed more than all but a few will earn in their lives. Keeping that money, seems like his newest battle.

His exposure has opened the rest of us up to one of the power players and has had almost all of us who didn’t know his name before wanting to know more. Unlike some others who amassed immense amounts of money under less than ideal operating principles, Willms, while not exactly available, hasn’t decided to hide himself… completely. If anything, he’s gone out of his way to make sure that people can find information about him.

A quick dig into the non-business entities operated by Willms, and you quickly notice one thing. Something is going on. It’s not everyone who bids on their name in two different spots.

The main Jesse Willms site doesn’t seem to be either of those but yet another with his name in the URL. Try visiting the site but pretending that you knew nothing about his businesses or the current issues surrounding them. You would see articles such as, “Jesse Willms: Giving To The Canadian Red Cross To Help The Homeless Victims Of The Slave Lake Forest Fire.” And “Jesse Willms: Supporting The YESS Organization’s Homeless For A Night Event.” You would also see press releases of:

  • Alberta Philanthropist Jesse Willms Supports Poppy Fund in Honor of Remembrance Day
  • CEO Jesse Willms Donates Time To The Edmonton Mustard Seed
  • Internet Entrepreneur Donates to Two Youth Charities
  • Internet Entrepreneur Jesse Willms Makes Long Term Commitment to the World Vision Children’s Charity
  • Jesse Willms Grabs A Hammer To Help Edmonton Habitat For Humanity
  • Noted Entrepreneur Jesse Willms Donates to KIVA Foundation

In fact, there is no shortage of mentions of his big heart but perhaps not quite as generous wallet. If anything, there are too many mentions of all the wonderful things that Saint Willms does. That and there is no shortage of links to his countless other eponymous sites — jessewillmscommunity, jessewillmsphilanthropy, jessewillmsethics, etc. One of his many sites almost seems to have been hacked, because the latest entry doesn’t give off the glowing vibe.

The odd post above aside, put it all together, and not surprisingly, you have the efforts of a PR team to make sure that any search for him comes up with a very deliberate and curated persona. His team has put in a not quite painstaking but decent, if not crude, amount of work so that stories such as this don’t appear first – CBC.ca

Perhaps the only real slip-up comes from when Willms decides to pen a post himself. You might think we are referring to ” We Believe Our Business Practices Are The Law,” but we are actually speaking of “The Importance Of Reading Offer Details.” In it he says, “The truth is, the customer should have thoroughly read the terms and conditions prior to buying the product.”

This statement is in regards to Apple consumers complaining about the company’s collection of location data automatically. Users felt wronged, but as Willms points out, the company’s user agreement states “Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device.” Adds Willms, “It doesn’t get any clearer than that.”

That is true, if you actually went into the nuts and bolts, you too could find it. Not leaving well enough alone, Willms also writes, “What’s happened here is that most people don’t read the offer details before agreeing to the terms. You can hardly blame a company for doing exactly what they told you they would do – and what you agreed to.” What more can we say?

The battle over Willms’ millions (or hundreds of millions) has progressed beyond the simple SEO stage. It involves the FTC, the Competition Bureau Canada, Service Alberta, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Alberta Partnership Against Cross Border Fraud, the Edmonton Better Business Bureau and even the BBB of Southern Nevada.

Worst case scenario, were the courts to rule against him and require him to repay hundreds of millions of dollars, he still has options. It may sound crazy, but were he banned from advertising, the way a hacker can be banned, he can always write a book and star in his own reality show. This is one story line almost too impossible to not be real. We’d option the rights this moment if we could.

Originally published at DMConfidential.com.





Gavin Dunaway is Editor, U.S. at AdMonsters, a leading trade publication, event producer and service provider for the online advertising industry. Previously, he had been Senior Editor of Adotas, where he arrived after years of ping-ponging around various industry publications. This Washington, D.C. native and George Mason University graduate also enjoys playing electric guitar so loud that the walls shake.

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