Brands need to develop greater respect for consumers' time

Time has become consumers' greatest luxury as the smartphone encroaches on their life outside work, so brands need to alter their thinking, writes Nicola Kemp.

Marketing and golf are both in danger of not understanding modern pressures on time
Marketing and golf are both in danger of not understanding modern pressures on time
In a previous life I coveted high heels, handbags and high-octane holidays; now I find myself lusting over the simpler things

Time is now the ultimate luxury. In a previous life I coveted high heels, handbags and high-octane holidays; now I find myself lusting over the simpler things. A night of uninterrupted sleep or even just some thinking space tops the list.

It seems I’m not alone in these shifting priorities. As our digitally driven, ‘always-on’ culture continues to erode the boundaries between work and our personal lives, time has become a prized commodity, with significant implications for brands.

'Off-hours' is a myth

According to research from business-communications provider RingCentral, 60% of millennials say their employers expect them to be accessible during ‘off hours’, while a further 70% work up to 20 hours a week outside the office. Among some consumers, the concept of ‘off hours’ is thought of as a myth.

Historically, leisure has been defined in terms of time, activities or states of mind; yet now, when the smartphone offers constant connectivity, the walls between labour and our personal lives are crumbling. Trends such as ‘performative leisure’ – where consumers photograph or video, style and share their leisure activities on social media – reflect the growing, sometimes self-imposed, pressures on consumers’ time.

Brands appear to have no respect for the value of their consumers’ time.

Yet all too often brands appear to have no respect for the value of their consumers’ time, and there is no doubt that some industries have struggled to adapt to this shift.

The problem with advertising and golf

In many ways, the advertising industry has much in common with the often archaic world of golf. There is little argument that, for many players, it is becoming more difficult to justify the length of time needed to play a round in the context of modern life, yet it remains resistant to change.

Indeed, figures from Sport England show that the number of 16- to 25-year-olds who play the game regularly almost halved between 2009-10 and 2012-13. Even world number-one Rory McIlroy told BBC Radio 4 that it was necessary to find some way of speeding the game up, saying: "Everything’s so instant now and everyone doesn’t have as much time as they used to."

However, the sport is resistant to change (as demonstrated by some clubs’ continuing disinclination to admit women), and the proliferation of 18-hole – and longer – courses in recent decades has added to the pressure on participants to play full rounds, rather than a quicker nine-hole game.

Zuckergerg's Law

The marketing industry is at risk of finding itself in similar territory. The economic conditions may remain challenging, but in the era of ‘Zuckerberg’s Law’, where consumers share twice as much every year as the last, agencies are making hay. The amount of content that agencies and brands produce – and consequently the time they demand from consumers – is rising exponentially. What value there is to consumers in this exchange is less clear.

Assertions that ‘leisure is dead’, or even the premise that millennials have less free time than previous generations, have been rightly challenged. Yet the phenomenal success of mindfulness apps such as Headspace show that this generation has a new level of awareness of the value of its time. Brands that fail to respect this may find their audience has already moved on.


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