Chris Worrell, insight director, OMD UK
Chris Worrell, insight director, OMD UK
A view from Chris Worrell, insight director, OMD UK

Brands must adapt as consumers beat a tech retreat

As tablets, mobiles and Smart TVs all reach new sales peaks and time spent online grows by the day, it's clear that consumers are over-indulging on technology, writes Chris Worrell, insight director at OMD UK.

Our recent ‘Future of Britain’ study on the changing shape of British society against a backdrop of long-term economic downturn and demographic shifts suggests this trend is set to abate.

A key finding from the research, which studied more than 200 households over a 10-day period, is that consumers are starting to re-balance their relationship with technology and are seeking a digital retreat – a clearly demarked time away from the internet and mobile devices.

Technology has gone from being a novelty to becoming useful but has now taken over, and the study found that people are more aware of just how connected they are. As such, there is a clear move for individuals to take back control of tech and re-define boundaries. OMD UK forecasts consumers are ready to go from being "always on" to "on/off" and that technology will increasingly move into the background.

Self-imposed rationing

Tech usage will soon become restricted in different ways, both through self-imposed rationing, new social rules or etiquette and by persuasion or suggestions from organisations and brands. Brands and marketers should lead this change in consumer behaviour, moving away from constant activity to a more targeted, personalised approach and teaching their customers how to use tech in a more effective and manageable way.

Mobile brands and advertisers could look to how the food industry has taken ownership of healthy eating as an example of riding the change of consumer behaviour. McDonald’s announced last month that it’s giving away 20m books with its Happy Meals, advising children and parents on the benefits of a healthy diet. It’s this almost altruistic approach which could benefit brands and marketers in the mobile and tech sector as they define a more balanced diet of consumption.

Using a mobile phone in certain circumstances is already frowned upon, but OMD UK’s study, analysing over 15,000 individual data points, suggests this etiquette will become more rigorous and it will soon become socially unacceptable in certain situations. Because mobile technology has become so pervasive we will start to enforce old-school etiquette to limit its impact in social situations.

Mobile ban

We have already seen moves to make this a reality with restaurants offerings discounts if mobile phones are left with the concierge and even banning them entirely (Michelin-starred chef Richard Turner does not allow mobiles at the tables of his restaurants).

Brands and marketers have already used this social change to their advantage. Nestle’s Kit Kat promoted park benches which block WiFi signal so consumers could ‘take a break’, Selfridges launched a tech-free ‘Silence Room’ and Lexus’ Quiet Revolution campaign positioned the new CT 200h as a noise-free retreat. This is something we expect to see more of – brands will help people switch off.

The study also predicts that consumers will be drawn to digital retreats or holidays to re-discover natural living and personal interaction. Hotels are already exchanging mobiles and laptops for board games and walking guides (The Westin Hotel, Dublin) and spa resorts are offering tech-free packages (Queen of Retreats, Suffolk – yoga and digital detox weekend). Travel marketers may need to pay more attention to the offer of peace and quiet rather than WiFi availability.

The study shows that marketers need to take charge of the consumer’s more sophisticated tech consumption and brands that communicate or generate revenues via technology platforms need to re-think their approach – hyper-connected doesn’t always mean hyper-happy.