EarthLink: Protect Your Privates

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In a bid to gain subscribers, Internet service provider EarthLink has launched a viral marketing campaign and debuted a television advertising campaign both focused on the hot button issue of privacy.

"EarthLink -- protect your privates," was the message of the viral campaign.

The message was displayed on rearview mirrors and toilet seat cover holders placed in the bathrooms of several bars and restaurants in Austin, TX, and Washington, from March 1-4 and will appear again from March 8-11.

"We all have certain settings in our lives where we have the expectation of privacy and certainly the bathroom is an important place for that," said Claudia Caplan, vice president of brand marketing for EarthLink, Atlanta. "A lot of people have the expectation of privacy when they are surfing the Net, and it's important to let people know that depending on what Internet service provider you're using you may not be as private as you like."

EarthLink hired Ammo Marketing, San Francisco, to create the campaign.

In a more traditional marketing effort, EarthLink's television ads zero in further on privacy.

The prime time ads, which were designed by TBWAChiatDay, began a two-week run last Monday and will run again in April, according to Caplan.

"The main focus of the television ad campaign is to let people know that their behavior on the Internet is being not only watched but also used and merchandised," said Caplan. "We want people to ask themselves, 'Are you using this Internet service or are they using you?' "

Ad copy that said, "They're watching you, compiling your information, invading your privacy, revealing your identity," was directed at the data collection and sharing practices of other ISPs such as AOL Time Warner, Net Zero and Juno, said Caplan.

"If you read AOL's terms of service, they are pretty clear about the fact that you have no privacy," she added.

EarthLink hopes to play upon consumer concern over online privacy and sign up privacy-conscious Internet users by letting them know that it does not sell user information, even in aggregate form, according to Caplan.

While consumer data is a hot commodity for marketers, EarthLink does not consider its policy as a missed opportunity.

Caplan claimed that EarthLink has no problem attracting advertisers to its site despite that user data is unavailable.

She also said ad-based Internet models are not that effective anyway.

In the end, EarthLink is betting that its privacy practices will strengthen its position in the ISP market.

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