Net Neutrality and Marketing

by | Feb 1, 2018 | Branding, Marketing, Video, Web

We’ve all heard the term “net neutrality.” But what is it? How does it affect consumers and what does it mean for brands?

Net neutrality: The principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) cannot speed up, slow down or block any content or website a consumer wants to use. All legal content and applications should be provided on an equal basis without favoring or blocking any one source over another.

This issue was thrust into the forefront of our national conversation when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on December 14, 2017, to dismantle the net neutrality regulation it established in 2015. The 2015 decision classified high-speed Internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone services. Under the Obama administration, the FCC felt that stronger oversight over broadband providers was needed as more Americans migrated to the Internet for communication. It felt that net neutrality regulation would keep the Internet free and open. Under the current Trump administration, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai disagreed and repealed the regulation. Pai argued that freeing up these ISPs from net neutrality restraints would promote innovation and help the economy.

Regardless of how you feel about net neutrality, there is one thing we can all agree on: It’s a complicated issue! And something difficult to understand, which has left many Americans scratching their heads about the whole thing.

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One consumer brand has come forward to help clear up the confusion. In a surprising turn, Burger King has launched a new ad in an effort to simplify the conversation. Last year, Burger King’s antibullying spot introduced the company as a brand that gets behind social causes. It seems Burger King wants to continue this type of brand identity. Much like the antibullying ad, this new ad is another clever store stunt to illustrate a specific message.

In this video, you see how consumers react to being charged more to get the same Whopper, only faster. They can still pay regular price but will need to wait longer for it. The ad cleverly shows its pricing board with the acronym “MBPS.” But instead of the standard “megabytes per second,” it labels it as “making burgers per second.” The anger is palpable as the customers begin to understand: The Whopper is the same, but if you want it faster, you must pay more. The tag line at the end of the video drives the point home: “The internet should be like the Whopper: the same for everyone.”

Over the years, brands have become more aware of social issues. Companies are taking a stand on topics they feel the public cares about. Whether it’s the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign or Honey Maid’s “This Is Wholesome” ad, brands are no stranger to socially relevant topics. But this is the first time a brand has tackled net neutrality. It begs the question: Why?

The biggest concern for net neutrality advocates is that ISPs can decide which websites, content and applications succeed. They can slow down competitors’ content or charge extra fees. Consumers may have to pay higher fees to get access to certain sites. How does this relate to brands? It’s all about access. If certain consumers can’t access areas of the Internet, that means marketers can’t access those consumers! Companies may be blocked if they compete with a similar offering from the blocking ISP. Or, they may have to pay an access fee to reach some customers, particularly if they have video content. The marketing cost per impression could likely increase drastically. Successful marketing strategies would no longer be as effective. Instead of providing original content to customers who are seeking it out, marketers would need to cast a wider net by targeting websites with the most users.

Additionally, small businesses could potentially be disproportionately affected. When a smaller business registers a website, it relies on digital marketing strategies like search engine optimization and pay-per-click services to jump-start its brand awareness. ISPs could charge fees for these brands to be in the “fast lanes” needed to reach the maximum number of consumers. Many consumers would not have easy access to these startups and their open-source materials. If small companies are priced out of online marketing, they have limited marketing resources to compete against a larger competitor. This could damage brand awareness for anyone not on a major platform.

At this point, all of this is just speculation. We don’t know what the ISPs will do now that net neutrality has been revoked. Nor do we know the long-term effects on the online marketing industry. But it’s telling when a large national brand such as Burger King takes a hard stand on net neutrality. It will be interesting to see if any other brands follow suit.

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Melissa Hayden
Melissa has more than a decade of marketing and account management experience, including strategy development, brand development, integrated marketing communications, program management and account service. She has a diverse personal roster of client experience with both B2B and B2C for industries such as grocery, retail, consumer package goods, hospitality and medical device. Melissa holds a bachelor’s degree in law and sociology from American University in Washington, D.C.

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