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.


  1. Interesting perspective. I think everything boils down to marketing. everything you use in your life was marketed to you one way or another. And you bought in to the marketing of that product or service.

  2. DetroitSoul says:

    this is a stupid perspective. The internet has nothing to do with music or movies.Reason being?Because the Internet is the Internet. Its a connection of different servers and computers.If they want to make sure there music and movies arent on websites etc. then they should do the same thing that software companys do when they are looking for cracked software. Have people search online etc. The internet is the only place that you can be free in the world (somewhat). And you know what? ITS DOING FINE WITHOUT LAWS HARMING IT. Do we as humans need to continuously control everything?There are alternative motives here that they arent talking about. The government would gain more control with this bill.Our government is large enough,they dont need to be dipping there hands any deeper in the internet then they already have. SOPA was a way to open the floodgates on more control online.The people of the world are sick of control. I myself am a musician, and you know what? Who cares if Billion dollar record labels are losing money? There selling soundwaves! If they dont want people to steal there soundwaves, then make cd’s that cant be burnt or figure out another way,but they shouldnt have laws passed just based on the fact that people arent buying music anymore and that music can be recorded.Hell, everyone used to copy tapes years ago, i did, half of my music was copied tapes.Its just easier these days so its on a larger scale. I say the music industry deals with that on its own,WE DONT NEED MORE LAWS!!!!. Laws shouldnt have anything to do with Marketing. Lobbyists were paying politicians millions of dollars to get this bill passed quietly.

    • Simon Tam says:

      While you’re more than welcome to your opinion, I think you missed the point of the article. Bad laws get passed all the time (unfortunately) but they could be stopped – or even good lws can be passed – with the right kind of marketing and story around it.

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