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Dipstick: Has the net neutrality controversy affected the brand image of Airtel and Flipkart?

As the discussions on net neutrality raged across media, BestMediaInfo spoke to some leading brand consultants to understand the impact of these discussions on the two brands that were embroiled in this controversy

Jagadeesh Krishnamurthy | Mumbai | April 20, 2015


The uproar continues in favour of net neutrality, a word most Indian netizens barely knew about till about two or three weeks ago. A lot has already been written across publications on the subject and its implications. As is known, the buzz began following Airtel’s introduction of a new ‘open marketing platform’, which allowed Flipkart users to access the app’s content for ‘free’.

Following the petitions, tweets, posts and shares against Flipkart and Airtel’s violation of the principles of net neutrality, the former decided to exit the Airtel Zero initiative. Moreover, Airtel’s plans to have differential pricing for VOIP calls, an initiative that was discarded after a lot of negative sentiments on social media, was also brought up. So was the much promoted initiative by Facebook, who has partnered Reliance in India. Starting with Cleartrip, and followed by NDTV and Times of India Group, some of the primary services on offer through the service deserted the ship, citing their support for net neutrality, and thus hoping to earn some brownie points from the vocally active digital savvy Indians in the bargain.

BestMediaInfo spoke to some brand consultants to understand the impact of these discussions on brands Flipkart and Airtel, that got involved in this subject...

Harish Bijoor Harish Bijoor

Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc

“Both Airtel and Flipkart have taken flak on this. These two brands well nigh nearly became the posterboys of the ‘Biased-net’ movement. These brands got seen by users of the Internet to be brands that were anti-net neutrality brands. Sachin Bansal’s comment a day before the rollback of the decision to partner with Airtel Zero that this was an innovation, did not help. Both brands in the bargain got painted as enemies of the free Internet movement.”

“By the time both these brands smelt the coffee, substantial harm was done. Thankfully, both brands retreated. Gopal Vittal came forth and said that Airtel was totally devoted to net neutrality, and so did the Bansals.”

“Well, consumers of the Internet are a savvy bunch. They know for sure that this rollback was a function of the massive tumult in e-space and the protests that got galvanised. Flipkart has made a bit of a recovery. Airtel needs to do a bit more. Both brands have a canker on them as of now. The shadow of brand-doubt. Both brands are likely to be viewed into the future as Goliath brands trying to get their way, as opposed the movement of being small, the movement of being David!”

Sudha Natrajan Sudha Natrajan

Sudha Natarajan, Founder, The Media Consultants:

“It is good for the brands that have pulled out, and as of now doesn’t sound too good for Airtel’s brand image. But as they say, the whole issue had been misunderstood. So, perhaps there is more to it than meets the eye. Moreover, I strongly believe that net neutrality needs to be maintained. This is the last bastion that is accessible to all and to make it restrictive or selective in any manner is extremely harmful. I believe it can then be misused.”

Santosh Desai Santosh Desai

Santosh Desai, MD and CEO, Futurebrands India:

“Yes, it has definitely affected the brand images to a large extent, considering that this was reported across mediums, including social media and mainstream media. The brands would have expected some amount of backlash when they started out with such an initiative, but wouldn’t have expected these online activists to simplify the matter and communicate it effectively to such a large audience in a short span of time. However, both the brands will not have any permanent damage to their brand image, considering that they have been around for a long period of time as well as the fact that only a certain portion of their audience has an issue with these initiatives.”

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