The Real Reason Why SOPA Didn’t Pass: Marketing

I’d like to believe that the two recent controversial bills, SOPA and PIPA, were stopped because they were poorly written but the real reason had to do with the power of messaging and branding.

Let’s face it: bad laws are passed everyday. In 2009-2010, Congress passed 8,970 bills alone. Most of the time, things go by unnoticed. SOPA and PIPA had great intentions (even praised by their strongest opponents) to deter piracy but their problem had to do with messaging. Both bills had been making steady progress for months with bi-partisan support and hardly any opposition. However, during the last several weeks, things exploded online when major Internet companies such as Google, Wikipedia, and Facebook got involved. A lot of things were said about the bill that weren’t true…but by then, it didn’t matter. People were buying the new story: SOPA and PIPA would “break the Internet.”

This is what they did wrong from a marketing perspective:

  1. They didn’t share the stories of those affected by piracy. Some of the bill’s biggest supporters, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), vouched their support but the messaging came from their executive staff. They didn’t tell the story of the thousands of workers affected by piracy: film hands, aspiring writers, the struggling artist. People launched attacks against the entertainment industry’s wealthy while ignoring the possibility that multi-billion dollar Internet companies probably have their own lobbyists influencing legislation as well. People don’t mind hating a big corporation but it’s hard to dismiss the power of a single story.
  2. They Communicated in the Wrong Places. Nearly all of the messaging supporting SOPA were featured on industry sites (such as ASCAP and BMI) but that information wasn’t being shared much outside of that. On the other hand, anti-SOPA/PIPA messaging prominently featured on social media and Internet sites (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.), making it easy to spread quickly and effectively.
  3. They Focused on the Wrong Message. People don’t care about industries or companies, they care about themselves. When the entertainment industry talks about lost revenue or lost jobs, eyes glaze over (they’re tired of hearing that tale). It’s why piracy continues to rise. On the other hand, hen someone hears “the Internet will break” or that they could lose their favorite social media site, they begin to listen and more importantly, want to take action.
  4. The Brand Suffered but They Didn’t React. The bill supporters assumed that people would use reason and read the bills themselves (especially as they got updated throughout the process) but in reality, most people didn’t care enough to follow. They had one poor impression and it was enough. In the customer service industry, if  manage negative touch-points aren’t managed, customers are lost. By then, it’s too little, too late. Many of the bill’s supporters began jumping ship simply because they didn’t want to be associated with SOPA or PIPA.

Even if the bills undergo major overhaul, I doubt they’ll get the support that they need. My recommendation would be to change the name (the brand) and begin with fresh messaging, highlighting the stories of the people who would be affected by its passage. Have independent artists reach out to their fans, show case budding directors and fashion designers. Show that it was more than the entertainment industry who had a stake. Share the a real story that people could relate to and spread.

Most of the bill sponsors involved never expected such a strong reaction since major laws are nearly ignored everyday. However, when you mess with the largest supply and delivery information services in the world, expect some sort of retaliation. In the end, it’s just business. But remember, a lot of spending, just like voting, is emotional and not necessarily rational. The story or idea that spreads and sticks is the one that wins.

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