Is This The New Spam?

In preparing my last post on MyBlogLog giveaways, I came across a few "make money online" kinds of sites. Specifically, I ran across John Chow who has been quite successful in monetizing his blog - he made $7000 in February. John has become popular among beginning bloggers and SEO (search engine optimization) people.

In taking a closer look, I learned more about John's methods. He promotes the use of link-back blog "reviews". In this case, a blogger is supposed to write a review of John's blog (positive or negative) and use very specific words and anchor tags for linking to his blog and he reciprocates with a link back. Here's an example of a promotion he did with a pen company:

To enter the Root Of All Evil Nintendo Wii contest, just make a post in your blog about it. Link to me using the anchor text “make money online,�? link to using “promotional pens,�? and link to this blog post.

In this case, he is manipulating search results in the same way that spammers do in the case of creating link blogs (more links to a site mean higher rankings). Only, in this case, he is using real people who are not motivated by anything but the possibility of winning a Wii.

Another example is Alex Shalman who is promoting a similar idea.

Here is how you can get me to donate $1: Link to this post and from your blog. You must use the line “Alex Shalman at Practical Personal Development (a blog about self help and personal growth) is hosting a Donation Contest in which you press a button and he donates a dollar�?, with all links intact and any additional things you would like to say. I choose this specific sentence in order to build search engine rankings, in a plan to have my dollar go a long way.

(italics added and links removed by me).

First, I'm not sure how this is a "contest". Second, this is another case of manipulating results by motivating real people to link with specific search phrases. He never mentions which charity, but it doesn't appear to matter. People seem to be quite excited about the idea and it's charitable aims.

My question:
Is this spam? They are obviously manipulating the system and impacting the relevance of search terms in order to promote themselves. Does it matter that real people are willing participants? Or is this just clever search engine optimization? Thoughts?