EarthLink Debuts Spots Highlighting Privacy Policies

EarthLink on Monday debuted a new ad campaign aimed at promoting the ISP’s consumer privacy policies — policies it says that help differentiate EarthLink’s Internet experience from those of competitors.

The ads are the second this year from the Atlanta-based ISP, which earlier rolled out a print, outdoor and animated TV campaign. Those ads continue to run, and promote EarthLink’s Internet access as the “real Internet” — unfiltered and unobstructed.

The new work, which is live-action, still carries the “real Internet” tagline, but focuses on EarthLink’s privacy policy — and seeks to communicate that EarthLink doesn’t track or sell consumer data.

The “Privacy” work — one thirty-second TV spot and an alternate — use a morphing effect to obscure the identity of actors as they go through daily routines. As with the previous effort, the new spots were designed by TBWA/Chiat/Day, EarthLink’s agency of record, and directed by video and commercial director Michel Gondry.

“The idea is that even though you’re seeing someone do something, you don’t see them long enough to identify them,” said EarthLink spokesman Arley Baker.

Copy from the ads read: “They’re watching you, compiling your information, invading your privacy, revealing your identity. At EarthLink, we would never do that. All we do is deliver the anonymous Internet.”

“The idea is that obviously, Internet service providers and other Internet companies have the ability to track you and know what you’re doing, and they can potentially share you info with partners or sell your information to mailing lists and third-party marketers,” Baker said. “EarthLink believes the Internet isn’t about that. It’s not about companies leveraging your data for business gain, and our stance is that’s not what the EarthLink experience is all about.”

The company didn’t disclose how much of its $50 million to $60 million annual ad budget it dropped on the ads, but said the buy included primetime airtime in 14 major U.S. markets.

EarthLink, which said it has never sold individual subscriber data to third parties, said it actively fights to protect subscribers from unsolicited commercial email.

“We don’t sell your info, we don’t follow you around, we don’t allow others to follow you around,” said Claudia Caplan, vice president of brand marketing for EarthLink. “We don’t sell it in the aggregate either — no behavioral characteristics.”

“We created this ad to further illuminate the growing importance of Internet privacy and to let people know that not all ISPs or online services have the same level of commitment to privacy protection,” she said. “Our message — and a key point of differentiation — is that EarthLink is not in the business of exploiting its subscribers’ personal data. Such practices fly directly in the face of the ‘real Internet’ experience that is the cornerstone of our branding campaign.”

EarthLink has some very specific targets with the message. The Atlanta-based ISP, which has about 4.7 million subscribers, ranks behind AOL Time Warner’s America Online service — which has 27 million members including those of subsidiaries like CompuServe. AOL, for instance, sells users’ behavioral data in aggregate, as well as users’ offline addresses and names to marketers.

ISPs that offer free service like Juno and NetZero also record users’ information. Juno uses personal information from surveys to target ads to free subscribers, but doesn’t release that data to third parties. In addition to using surveys to target ads, NetZero also sells aggregate data and research by tracking users’ movement across the Web.

“The other culprits we feel in this area are the free services,” Caplan said. “You trade your ability to connect with the Internet, for the ability to track you and sell that information — because that’s their revenue model.”

Of course, those services spell this fact out in their privacy policies when users sign up for the service, and thus far, have managed to secure a sizable subscriber base — Juno has 10 million active reported pay- and free-service users, while NetZero reports 8.4 million active users of both its free and paid services. (Active users are subscribers who use the service at least once per month.)

But EarthLink is wagering that by calling attention to this fact, it will boost subscriber rankings despite requiring fees that the free ISPs don’t.

“Earthlink doesn’t prevent you from giving out your information online — but it makes sure that that’s your choice, so that you give your information to people you trust in an opt-in way,” Caplan said.

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