Apr 20, 2012 · 3 minutes

A London-based digital marketing agency hopes to steal a bit of Google’s advertising magic with a new referral program that pays commissions direct to consumers.

Traffic Junction’s Have You Seen platform launches Monday and will deliver a Pinterest-like product recommendation experience that turns individual consumers into affiliate marketers. With the click of a bookmarklet, people can recommend a product from a retailer’s website to friends in their social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, or by email.

If one of their friends buys the product, the referrer gets paid via PayPal or direct bank transfer. The average commission from Have You Seen’s beta period was about 5 percent of the sale, says Traffic Junction’s commercial director Dan Pearce. If the referrer so chooses, buyers can also get discounts on their purchase via the program.

Affiliate marketing is about 15 years old – and Traffic Junction has been in the business for a decade – but has traditionally been confined to content owners and publishers. Still, it’s a massive sector, estimated to be worth about $3 billion annually in the US alone. Google’s AdSense program is a dominant player, leaning on customer-referral logic in paying fees to blog owners, who carry Google Ads that lead to sales conversions.

Amazon offers another prominent example. Publishers who carry embeddable Amazon ads that lead directly to sales get paid a commission. The Have You Seen model, which leverages social networking on a user-by-user basis, seems an obvious play, but it’s probably only become truly viable now that the likes of Pinterest and Instapaper have popularized the use of bookmarklets to tag and share content. Have You Seen’s beta program asked users to copy and paste URLs onto its website – a much clumsier, and thus potentially fatal, solution.

Similar referral programs such as Curebit and Extole rely on in-app experiences, advertising calls-to-action, or integration into pre-existing platforms. Traffic Junciton hopes publishers and retailers will one day integrate Have You Seen referral buttons into their on-site experiences in the same way that users can today express their approval by Like-ing or Tweeting a piece of content.

Traffic Junction is betting that users won’t spam their friends with product recommendations on their social networks, because they would risk damaging their reputations or being de-friended or unfollowed. I’m not so sure – he clearly hasn’t seen my 13-year-old cousin’s Facebook output.

While Have You Seen’s offering is platform agnostic, it does rely on basic partnerships with retailers. Have You Seen’s spiders crawl a retailer’s site to retrieve the recommended product’s information before sharing it via the site. So far it is available for only about half of the UK’s top 100 retailers in the UK, but that includes big names such as Amazon, Nike, HMV, and British Airways. The service is also available to American users, who will get paid in US dollars.

For now, Traffic Junction isn’t taking a cut of the sales. “We want to be entirely transparent and 100 percent of the commission paid by the retailer is available to the user and purchaser to share,” says commercial director Dan Pearce.

The company is taking a medium-term view on revenue generation and hasn’t yet decided how to monetize Have You Seen. Among the ideas being considered is targeting users with product suggestions based on previous share data, thus getting products in front of likely advocates.

Individualized affiliate marketing is just screaming for an American company to come in and provide a localized experience for the social media-happy consumers here. And therein lies the risk for Have You Seen – it’s not too difficult to envisage a Google or an Amazon or, indeed, Pinterest muscling into the space and just wiping out the competition.

In the meantime, though, I know this book you might like...