Internet Shutdowns Threaten International Marketing

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Governments abroad shut down the Internet 50 times in 2016, calling into question the possibility of wasted ad dollars.

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Silicon Valley is leading the charge in bringing internet to the developing world through projects like Google's Loon and Facebook's Aquila. Should they prove successful, hundreds of countries could enter the globalization fold, and with them an expanded audience for marketers. But not if the disturbing trend of governments blacking out regional internet continues.

Governments shutdown the internet in developing countries more than 50 times last year, the Inter Press Service reports.

“What was very normal just in China is becoming the new normal around the world,” says Mehdi Daoudi, CEO and co-founder of Catchpoint Systems.

According to the IPS article, much of this shut down accompanied incidents like election-rigging, or suppressing protests. These shutdowns mostly occur in countries with telecommunications monopolies, or countries where Internet providers can easily be coerced by the government like China (which has long been both a priority and a headache for international marketers), India, and Saudi Arabia. Shutdowns can cost the affected countries hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity, to say nothing of brands' wasted ad dollars.

“[This trend] creates a huge nightmare for both the advertiser and the publisher,” Daoudi says.

Marketers with international audiences must be mindful of the possibility that bought and paid-for campaigns could be interrupted. Advertisers can expect little or no reciprocation for the wasted spend, from either the government that pulled the plug on the web or the websites that fully expected to run the ad before the shutdown took place. “[Shutdowns] create discrepancy issues between different third-party technologies and different ad serving companies, so the ramifications [of internet shutdowns] can be very severe, not only from a loss of revenue, but it creates this doubt... of the internet as a medium,” Daoudi says.

Marketers have little control over these black-out situations, and nearly as few options for appropriate action after the fact. Daoudi suggests that international marketers should have some form of service monitoring technology (such as that provided by Catchpoint) in place, so that at the very least they are informed about potential shutdowns, as the offending governments typically forego courtesy notifications to affected businesses.

With issues of internet access and security falling increasingly under the purview of the United Nations and other international organizations, it's possible marketers need only wait this dubious trend out.

“It's going to be interesting to see how the U.N. and the international community tackle these things going forward,” Daoudi says.

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