A view from Mark Howley

Digital detox: Ditching devices is more than a summer holiday fad

The ability to tell stories across devices and media owners is becoming more pressing in a digital world that needs to detox and take time-out,...

The recent Ofcom Communications Market report, Digital detoxers ditch their devices, made for interesting reading. Despite the headline grabbing title, there isn’t a sudden surge away from digital channels, back to the leisurely read of broadsheet newspapers.

Broadly, our habits of watching TV, listening to the radio, etc, have remained the same, and time spent on digital channels continues to rise.

But lurking below the surface are perhaps more seismic shifts to the world as we know it. TV viewing has dropped by 15 minutes a day for 16- to 24-year-olds, the biggest annual fall recorded since 2010.

This is even more stark at closer inspection, looking at the past two years shows that the same age group is watching 39 minutes less "live" TV. Are we seeing an acceleration of young audiences away from linear TV viewing?

Within the sample size of the Howley family, yes. The youngest three do not turn on the television set – ever. It’s not to say they don’t watch and enjoy TV, but it is a very different TV experience.

TV viewing has dropped by 15 minutes a day for 16- to 24-year-olds, the biggest annual fall recorded since 2010.

The Ofcom report shows our preferred method of communication remains email and text, but again there is an inextricable shift to instant messaging.

If the trend continues, instant messaging will be the "mass media" over text and email within three years, another challenge for CRM and acquisition-focused marketers.

And the word "digital" indicates something separate, different or new is increasingly an antediluvian term. In the past two years, another two million homes have signed-up for super-fast broadband, the number of us subscribing to 4G has doubled, and with three in four of us now owning a smartphone.

The digital, super-fast connected consumer is your average Joe or plain Jane on every high street, in every town, across the UK.

But as the title of Ofcom’s research paper suggests, perhaps the most interesting change reported is the emergence of the more human-behavioural aspects: "digital detox", "tech-timeout", "netiquette", "smart snubbing", and "tech tardiness". We can probably all relate to the notion of these terms.

If time spent in digital channels continues to be in addition to more traditional media-related forms of leisure, we must be spending an awful lot of time in front of one screen or another and, as we all know, where there is a trend, there is a counter trend.

Most agency folk realise that a better understanding of the consumer’s inter-device interaction with our campaigns is required. We can be more efficient in campaign planning if we better understand who has interacted with our brand, on which device, in which sequence.

But we should beware of the overloaded, overwhelmed consumer needing to detox, in a broader sense too. Perhaps campaign efficiency isn’t the real reason why agencies need to crack holistic measurement, as it would seem reasonable that brands too could fall on the wrong side of digital consumption – irritation, repetition, annoyance are not likely to drive brand-love.

The need to be able to sequentially story-tell across devices, across media owners, is perhaps even more pressing in a world needing to detox and time-out. Understanding how to best utilise and integrate DMPs into your media planning world will become another skillset required of the modern communications planner.

This, for me, is the real learning in the Ofcom report. We can all too easily get overly-focused in the quantitative and data side of digital, but perhaps we all need to apply a little more qualitative understanding to this ecosystem.

The winners will always be those who best understand the customer’s true feelings and urges, both negative and positive.