Tech Addicts and Brand Ethics

The digital detox is an oft-quoted theory these days, the break from tech meant to help us sleep, focus and work more efficiently, as well as being vital for our mental health.

The American Marketing Association ran an interesting article about the ethical line that companies risk crossing when it comes to social media marketing.

Most people are faced with a “deafening roar of smartphones and social media”, while brands have access to unprecedented levels of consumer data. Those brands can reach customers everywhere—in their homes, at work, in cars and wherever else they take their devices.

US teenagers, the article reports, spend nine hours a day on media devices, while the average adult is on social media networks some two hours a day. Wherever you are now, look about you and there will be people glued to phones and tablets, an aura that surrounds them, cutting them off from everyone around them.

Treatments and rehabilitation are offered to children and adults addicted to tech and social media. Why is social media so addictive? Likes, retweets and comments can activate the brain’s reward centre, and provide external validation.

Recent studies have shown the dark side of social media. German researchers reported one in three people feel more dissatisfied with their lives after browsing Facebook. A study in the journal Psychological Reports: Disability & Trauma found technology addictions are similar to substance and gambling addiction, resulting in sleep deprivation, social isolation, health issues and more.

What ethical lines do companies cross? A photo of someone looking great in a new bikini and tagged with the clothing brand, for example, might be liked by hundreds more people if the brand retweets it. The brand might not retweet the second photo, though. Someone whose esteem is bolstered only by external validation might find that difficult to deal with.

The most tangible example of social media’s addictive behaviours and the dangers is the willingness of people to use mobile phones while driving, even though it’s against the law. In the US, eight people are killed and 1,161 injured every day because a screen distracted the driver. There’s also the phenomenon of phubbing—phone snubbing, in intimate, personal and work relationships.

Addiction to tech and social media makes it easier for brands to market and sell. Is it right for them to take advantage of this addiction in the race to grab consumers’ attention?

The marketer’s job, the article says, it to ensure a sticky website, platform, blog or app. But is there also an ethical responsibility to the consumer’s health?

“Digital addiction is a multi-faceted issue, ridden with caveats, complexities and questions. In the end […] marketers must act ethically, and consumers must take responsibility for their own actions, habits and addictions”.

Read the article in full here.

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