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: