Staying on when everyone wants to turn off; digital detoxes and advertising

There comes a point where you just know you’ve gone too far. You might be teasing a mate and suddenly realise he’s not laughing anymore but likely to lean over the pints and punch you. Or that awkward moment you realise you’ve gone too far in a fight with your partner and you’ll be sleeping on the sofa for at least a week. Or the moment you make a family member cry because you were a little too honest. You just know. The atmosphere changes, everyone tenses up and if looks could kill, you’d be flat out on the floor by now.

We’ve apparently hit that point with our technology and somewhere between checking our phones first thing in the morning and taking them to the toilet with us, we went too far. The constant online presence, checking in to every restaurant, tagging friends in everything, recording every moment for the gram and tweeting anything funny that anyone ever said tells us we’ve overdone it. Taken this joke a little too far. The result is now digital detoxes, whether it’s retreats in the south of Spain or bath salts (it’s actually a thing), the rising popularity of ‘switching off’ continues to grow.

But for brands that relay on their consumers being constantly switched on, addictively connected to their devices, surely digital detoxes aren’t in our best interests?

Naturally, because we sometimes like to be contrary but mostly we like to consider things from all angles, we disagree. The popular desire to disconnect from screens and smartphones doesn’t signal the death of advertising or consumerism, but rather is a changing attitude in our audience and brands must do what they always have done, at least the ones who have survived that is, and they must care about the same things their consumers care about. They must embrace the new trends as wholeheartedly as their people do and be less bandwagon and more leader.

In a world of purpose-led brands, social consciousness, marches and hashtags turned revolutions, no one can afford to pay the price of apathy. We are living in a time of such social commentary and we are all expecting everyone to say their piece and that includes brands, corporations and the big ole blue-chip. No one is exempt from this. The attitude of consciousness naturally filters across politics, culture and personal health and wellness, so as digital detoxes become more commonplace, brands have a responsibility to incorporate it into their advertising and marketing one way or another.

It sounds oxymoronic, but some brands have already started and done it brilliantly. Dolmio conducted the Look Up experiment which was a brilliant way to highlight the importance of family dinner time, the need to disconnect and their own product. Suddenly they became more than pasta sauce, they became a nostalgic desire to sit around the family table and enjoy a meal together. KFC similarly incorporated the idea of eating together by launching the Phone Stack. The idea was that in their chains customers downloaded an app, stacked their phones and everyone on the app would be linked to a stack. The longer the stack remained the more rewards they earned in store. Once someone moved a phone, the link was broken, and the stack ended.   

Encouraging less tech time doesn’t mean brands are going to start losing out and getting less eyeballs on their adverts. What it actually means is they’re tapping into conversations that are necessary and currently being had. It means they’re aware of the pain points of their people and doing what they can to address them. It is only by ignoring the current trends and movements that brands begin to fade into irrelevance because after all, so much of branding and repeat sales is being relevant and right now, we’re all worried about how much time we’re spending on our phones without the will power to turn them off. We’re children of the digital revolution, brought up on screen time and brand incentives. This is one thing we need brands to lead the way in and incentivise us to switch off and connect with the people around us a little more.