Wednesday was a big day for net neutrality, as tech companies like Amazon, Reddit, Facebook, Google, and Twitter rallied in protest of the FCC’s anti-net-neutrality policy change ahead of its impending roll-out. Dubbed “the Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality”, many companies displayed banners, pop-ups, and other forms of special notices on their websites to raise awareness for the issue and encourage people to take action and voice their support. Some sites such as Netflix and Reddit even slowed down their connections to show visitors how irritating the online experience would become if net neutrality were ever abolished.
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without prioritizing or blocking particular products or websites. It aims to protect open access to the internet for everyone and prevent ISPs like AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and Verizon from slowing down access to the web in favor of certain websites and services that they own themselves, or those that are paying them to get in the fast lane.
Net neutrality has been a topic of debate since as early as 1999 (check here for a timeline of the development of this issue), but in recent years, the topic has grown much more contentious and gained mainstream relevance as more and more U.S. consumers got online. Now, with over 286 million internet users in the U.S., net neutrality is an issue that directly affects pretty much everyone, especially given that 89% of Americans only have one or two options for broadband access due to regional monopolies or duopolies, leaving them vulnerable to data throttling and powerless in their choices to access the digital platforms.
Therefore, for companies like Google and Amazon to take a stand and advocate for net neutrality is not only a political move that advances their own interests, but also a savvy marketing move that aligns their goals with the consumers’ benefits. As consumers increasingly become reliant on digital platforms and services for news and entertainment, shopping, work, and many other aspects of their daily lives, it is a smart move for the aforementioned companies to foster and solidify brand affinity among customers.
Leveraging a social-political cause as a way to reach out to certain segments of consumers and communicate brand value is an old trick in PR marketing, but given the polarizing political climate in the U.S., it is a trick that is becoming increasingly effective. (It does occasionally backfire when poorly executed, as the Kendall Jenner-starring Pepsi ad showed.) The beauty of net neutrality is that, compared to other issues, it is one with most Americans support, regardless of their political leanings. Therefore, it is a perfectly safe political issue for brands to engage consumers with and show that they are on the same side. That is, unless you’re one of the major ISPs and somehow wants in on the protest as well. Don’t treat customers like clueless idiots who don’t know what your brand really stands for – the open internet ensures that they do.