Not that I needed a reminder about this week’s vote on Net Neutrality, but today I saw a ragtag group of protesters down the street from our agency holding signs and soliciting honks for solidarity against its repeal. This prompted me to consider what exactly the end of Net Neutrality might mean for the brands our agency serves. Or for our agency, our industry, in general.
The central question surrounding Net Neutrality is simple: Is the internet a public utility (like water) or a service (like an airline travel) that can be infinitely up-sold to consumers?
Repealing Net Neutrality has complex implications for everyone from consumers to marketers to the agencies and other digitally based service providers who service advertisers. Despite that experts agree it would be a while before any changes occur (arguably long enough that a new administration could come in and revert to the status quo), this is a big enough techno-philosophical issue that I believe we should be discussing in the advertising/marketing world.
After all, our clients stand to lose quite a bit.
On the most basic level, brands will end up paying more to have their content/ads published online. If Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon begin to charge website “tolls” for being able to deliver the websites’ experience, those costs will ultimately be passed onto brands through increased cost-per-thousand (CPM). Brands with any type of content—from video to games, to microsites — could be required to provide payments to ISPs to enable the quick access to their content. With increased CPMs comes lower ROI, which leads to shrunken budgets, over time.
Of course, brands with deeper pockets will have a better ability to pay to make sure their content is seen, but even a massive brand will see a return on ad spend that is much less than what it is in the current climate of Net Neutrality.
Beyond the increased costs that marketers will incur, however, is the tangled mess of having to navigate online advertising placement in a post-Net Neutrality environment, in which, say, Verizon has a stake in news sites like CNN.com (but not FoxNews.com).
Brands also need to pay attention to how the repeal of Net Neutrality might impact viewability rates—the metric that is a standard throughout our industry to track impressions that are actually seen.
A slower internet connection means that ads may not load at proper speeds. Since ads are the last call to most websites, the outcome post-Net Neutrality may be that the ads brands pay for do not load, or they load so slowly that they don’t meet the standard definition of “viewable.” Professional organizations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Media Rating Council have invested in an incredible amount of time in standardizing viewability definitions and best practices across the internet and mobile. The elimination of Net Neutrality could have us all back at square one in attempting to gauge ad performance.
Finally, we who create digital marketing efforts could see a day when the services we provide to our clients are completely obsolete or ineffective as the result of this massive policy change. All of the data and information we have obtained since the internet was first a public tool in 1993 may need to be reset simply because the even playing field we have enjoyed to this point will be upset. Currently, a Chewy.com has the same website “store front” opportunity as Amazon. Should Net Neutrality be repealed, the digital marketing industry will need to completely reinvest itself and brands that will no longer be able to pay agencies to help them fairly compete.
So the implications of repealing Net Neutrality are far greater than just the fact that your Netflix may now run very slowly if you are Comcast user. But that’s pretty awful, as well. It’s not too late to share your POV or get involved in the fight to save the Internet.