Commentary

Brace Yourselves For A Rise In Anti-Technology Sentiment

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. The tech world was powerful, influential and cool. It was defining the future. 

But these days, the world’s love affair with technology seems to be waning. Yesterday’s saviors are today’s threats—accused 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? What should be we doing to prepare for this eventuality?

To answer these questions, we first need to take a closer look at the backlash itself. Is it a real phenomenon or just a fad—a contrarian stance cooked up by hipsters and journalists fishing for clicks?

There’s definitely a faddish dimension to what some are calling the “digital detox” movement. It’s not unlike the way early fans abandon a musical act when they achieve mainstream success. A recent Vice headline sums up this sentiment nicely: “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 reportedly deleted the Facebook app from his phone in disgust. Another former Facebook executive has publicly shared his belief that the platform is “ripping apart” society. 

Facebook isn’t the only one facing negative scrutiny. In light of new research from Korea University in Seoul that casts a negative light on the effect of excess smartphone use on developing brains, Apple investors are currently pressuring the company to take action to curb over-use among children.

What does the general public actually think about all of this? Recent polls from Pew research provide some indicators: 72% of Americans are worried about automation replacing human jobs. 63% believe fake news is creating “a great deal of confusion.” Another recent poll conducted by Harvard/Harris found 49% of Americans believe stricter regulation of big tech is called for. The message is clear: people are concerned. In other words, the backlash is real.

The most visible intersection between this backlash and the marketing industry is regulation. In May of this year, the European Union’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 advertising. And Forrester predicts that 80% of affected firms will fall short of compliance. 

Beyond regulation, this backlash also adds more risk to the substantial investments brands have made in tech. It amplifies existing pitfalls like ad fraud and wasted spend on flash-in-the-pan trends like chatbots or VR. And it creates further instability in an already dynamic landscape as big tech players attempt to battle the rise in negative sentiment—witness, for example, the recent uproar over Facebook’s re-set of their News Feed algorithm.

So what’s a marketing leader to do? Here are few tips to for avoiding blowback as the backlash builds: 

  • Make a concerted effort to get out in front of data and privacy regulations voluntarily. Start asking tough questions to your media and examining your own data governance model.
  • When it comes to partnerships with big tech, diversify your roster and be careful not to build too much reliance on any single partner. 
  • Pull some resources away from the most controversial aspects of tech-driven marketing—programmatic direct response ads—and instead spend that money on brand building and improving the customer experience. 
  • When in doubt, obsess over your customers and use their needs as a guide.
2 comments about "Brace Yourselves For A Rise In Anti-Technology Sentiment".
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  1. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, February 13, 2018 at 12:42 a.m.

    John, perhaps an add to your bullet list...obsess about the quality of data. Which is a core outgrowth of the general movement " quality not quantity." I suspect for many in the industry the quantity of everything marketing-related is generating serious fits of brain-freeze. All this clutter generated by tactical concerns leads invevitably to strategic dementia. 

  2. Kenny Kurtz from creative license, February 13, 2018 at 6:17 a.m.

    And why wouldn't there be anti-technology sentiment? So much negative attached to so little positive? I could only giggle watching a traditional news story on my oh so uncool television while pumping iron in my home gym recently covering the fact that our soldiers were identifiable in their "supposed to be unknown quarters" in Afghanistan to anybody with computer access based upon the the Google Maps ring of fire created by their Fitbits. Duh!

    I've always been intrigued by the fact that my wife, prone to bladder infections, invariably winds up with vaginal yeast infections after starting her antibiotic rounds for the infections in her bladder. Antibiotic reduces the body's natural ability to fight off bacterial infections, and the same paradox seems true of technology. It has not, and will not EVER enhance a single human being's natural ability to problem solve, or get smart things done in a natural, efficient manner. It has, on the other hand, proved rather adept at "collectively dumbing us down."

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