From Backlash to Blowback

In recent years, we marketers have tied ourselves closely to the tech industry, doing our part to fuel its rise. It seemed like a safe bet. But these days, the world’s love affair with technology seems to be waning. Yesterday’s saviours are today’s threatsaccused of being anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy. In short, a backlash seems to be brewing.

So what does all of this mean to marketers? If this backlash comes to fruition, could we end up caught in the blowback? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • There’s definitely a faddish dimension to the digital detox movement. This recent Vice headline sums it up cleverly: “Not going online is the new going online”.
  • But there are deeper currents here as well. For example, the man who invented the “like button” has very publicly deleted the Facebook app from his phone in disgust. Another former Facebook executive believes the platform is “ripping apart” society.
  • This feels like an opportune moment to share one of our favourite satirical headlines of the past year.

  • Facebook isn’t the only target, of course. In light of research that casts a negative light on the effect of excess smartphone use on developing brains, Apple investors are currently pressuring the company to act on over-use among children.
  • What does the general public actually think about all of this? Some indicators: 72% of Americans are worried about automation replacing human jobs. 63% believe fake news is creating “a great deal of confusion.” And 49% think stricter regulation of big tech is called for. It seems clear: people are concerned.
  • And let’s be clear: this includes concerns about being tracked and targeted online. In other words, this backlash reflects directly on advertisers.
  • The most visible intersection between the tech backlash and marketing is regulation. In May of this year, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect, placing stringent limits on the collection, storage and usage of personal data. Many see it as a game changer for digital marketing. And Forrester predicts that 80% of affected firms will fall short of compliance.
  • Beyond regulation, this backlash adds more risk to brand investments in tech. It amplifies existing pitfalls like ad fraud and wasted spend on flash-in-the-pan trends like chatbots. And it creates sudden, disuptive policy changes as tech firms attempt to de-escalate things.
  • So what’s a marketer to do? Our advice: Make an effort to get out in front of data and privacy regulations voluntarily. Be careful not to over-invest in partnerships with big tech. Pull some resources away from programmatic direct response ads. Spend that money on brand building and improving the customer experience instead. And when in doubt, obsess over your customers and use their needs as a guide.


Copyright © 2018 Modern Craft, All rights reserved.

John Ounpuu
Issue #36
Jan 21, 2018

Further Reading