Web security brands tapped to comfort consumers

Hardly a month goes by without media outlets carrying a warning about some new online virus, rampant identity theft or e-mail inboxes crumbling under the massed weight of spam.

Hardly a month goes by without media outlets carrying a warning about some new online virus, rampant identity theft or e-mail inboxes crumbling under the massed weight of spam.

It’s costing consumers and businesses time and money, and forcing marketers to make online security a top priority lest the Internet lose its lustre as a viable commercial channel.

‘Whereas five years ago viruses were simply an annoyance, now they’re a problem,’ says Steve Poelking, director of research at Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada. ‘Five years ago, you thought about virus protection, now businesses budget for it.’

Internet service providers (ISPs) are responding by doing more to secure their networks and communicating this fact in an effort to increase subscriptions. Toronto-based Rogers Cable, which operates high-speed Internet service in Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland, didn’t offer anti-virus (AV) protection before partnering with Network Associates, which markets McAfee, in January.

Ted Jarvis, director of marketing for new Internet services at Rogers Cable, says the company did some research to determine how it should proceed with upping the level of security it offered. Rogers found that 91% of consumers believed they were protected by AV software although only 25% of them actually were.

From there the strategy behind the marketing was relatively straightforward: provide a subscription-based AV service for a monthly fee. Says Jarvis, ‘We believe that once we educate consumers and have them realize that they need to take steps to get a firewall and anti-virus protection – and that they can easily purchase it from us – that’s going to make our service more attractive.’

Toronto-based agency MacLaren McCann created an ad campaign to introduce the service and build awareness in March. The campaign uses radio, print and direct mail and targets both current and potential customers.

‘The benefit we’re providing is peace of mind and we’re leveraging that insight,’ says Jarvis. The insight plays to the need for protection. For example, the DM piece features images of masks and a fencer in full gear with the words, ‘Only 25% of computers are really protected. Be sure that your computer is secure.’

So far, Jarvis says the strategy has paid dividends. He says Rogers Cable is selling the security service to new customers at a much better rate than the current 10% rate for existing customers. To try to reach existing customers, who mistakenly think they are already protected, Rogers has trained its call centre reps to show them that this isn’t in fact true.

Telus Quebec entered into a similar agreement with Network Associates in October and officially launched the anti-spam/anti-virus service in January. Serge Cote, senior analyst, Web services at Montreal-based Telus Quebec, said customers were asking for better security. ‘It was also a way to increase [subscription to] our services,’ he adds.

Apparently, it was really needed. Cote says that two years ago Telus Quebec handled 300,000 e-mails per day, about 15,000 of which were spam. Today it handles four million e-mails per day and approximately three million of those are spam.

The Telus Quebec campaign, created by LXB Communications, Quebec City, launched in January and used TV to announce the introduction of the service. However, when the myDoom virus attacked, radio spots were also employed.

While the ISP can provide one significant line of defence, online marketers are also looking for ways to take proactive measures on their own sites. Where transactions are concerned, credit card security is critical and several marketers have started working with credit card operator Visa Canada. The latter’s ‘Verified By Visa’ program, uses authentication technology to confirm a cardholder’s identity and protect the merchant from costly clawbacks. (A clawback is when the credit card company takes back the money from a purchase when the customer claims he never received the product, thereby leaving the merchant with neither the money nor the goods.) To use the service, consumers register at a financial institution.

Motorola.ca was the first major retailer to sign on for the program last October. Michelle Montana, accessory marketing manager for Toronto-based Motorola Canada, says the company wanted to offer more security features on the consumer and merchant side after becoming aware through media reports of consumer concerns.

While there were existing security processes in place on the site’s back end, Motorola decided that having something visible and recognizable to consumers would make a difference in increasing the latter’s confidence.

Marketing from Motorola’s end has been low key. The company has relied on ‘Verified by Visa’ logos appearing on each page of Motorola.ca, although the site was also featured in a print and TV extension of the Visa ‘If Life Were Like That’ national campaign that originally broke in January 2003. Aptly enough, the tagline is, ‘If Life Were Like That, You Wouldn’t Need Verified by Visa.’

Montana says sales have risen, if only modestly. ‘It hasn’t been a huge spike, but it’s made it more comfortable for consumers because we’re turning around their orders more quickly.’

Steve Mossop, SVP at Ipsos Reid, believes marketers that partner with well-known brands to provide security will significantly increase consumer confidence. ‘The concern goes beyond Visa,’ he insists. ‘People are concerned that their credit card gets intercepted while it’s in transit. They’re concerned about where the credit card information is stored on the company’s servers.’

He suggests that marketers directly address security and privacy issues on their Web sites throughout the course of a transaction (such as through periodic messages that confirm what is happening). They also have to make their security and privacy policies absolutely clear, he adds.

‘It has to be tackled in a number of different ways and a number of different times before consumers are really going to believe and understand it.’

Online security fears skyrocket

Consumer fears about security are hitting marketers where it hurts – in the pocketbook. Jack Sebbag, VP and GM of Toronto-based Network Associates, which markets the McAfee brand of security software, estimates the total economic damage caused by such issues as virus attacks, identity theft and spam at $200 billion in Canada for 2003. And according to Ipsos-Reid, Canadian online sales during the crucial holiday season have fallen for the last two years, from $1.1 billion in 2001 to $972 million in 2003.

While there are a number of factors at root, one of them – fear over online security – continues to increase dramatically. In 2003, 32% of Canadians expressed that they had ‘more concern’ about security than in 2002, almost double the 18% in 2001 who expressed more concern than in 2000.

‘We’re expecting that concerns about security are not going to dissipate as quickly as experts in the industry would like to think,’ says Steve Mossop, SVP at Ipsos-Reid.