Let’s Talk about Techlash: Learnings on Bridging the Digital Disconnect from Advertising Week NYC

Advertising Week NYC has come and gone, and while the smell of popcorn has finally faded, some of the annual event’s biggest themes will be lingering for quite some time. Trust in tech was unsurprisingly a focal point, as the advertising industry continues to reel from negative headlines around consumer data and privacy, and braces itself for CCPA and other impending regulations. 

With that in mind, we listened in on a panel that spotlights new research from American Marketing Association (AMA) New York into the challenges presented by a growing resistance to technology and how marketers can work to address them. Called “Techlash is Here,” the conversation shined a light onto the disconnect between consumers’ privacy concerns and brands’ desire to reach their audiences with as much personalization as possible. Here are a few key takeaways from the study and dialogue — and what that means for tech.

Tackling techlash with transparency

Technology is all around us, playing a part in nearly everything we as consumers do. But in the U.S., many consumers are pushing back on tech’s ubiquity. AMA New York’s research found that in the next three years, many Americans will reduce their usage of social media and games. Facebook and Instagram use will level off by 2022, and Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn use is expected to decline. In spite of this, advertisers plan to invest even more into these channels. 

There’s a clear misunderstanding between marketers and consumers about the benefits and role of social platforms. Where marketers see opportunity, many consumers today see anxiety and risk. For marketers and advertisers to see a return on their social media investments, they will need to regain the trust of their audiences. They need to make a commitment to transparency in how, where and when they collect and use data, and put more control in consumers’ hands to monitor what they share. GDPR marked a shift in the regulatory tides, and a sea change is coming starting with CCPA in January. Marketers need to prepare themselves and have consumer sentiment on their side if they’re going to survive the storm. 

Tech skeptics on the rise

As anxiety about social media grows, so do wariness and skepticism around emerging technologies. More than 80 percent of Americans fear that fake accounts, falsehoods, hackers and bots will mislead consumers. No longer willing to blindly accept new technology for its promised benefits, consumers are boldly questioning what tech really offers and whether it might have damaging effects. Panelists called out smart speakers in particular as an innovation that U.S. consumers are growing resistant to, despite the utility of an always-on assistant. 

For technology companies to successfully deliver their future developments, they too will need to question their impact on the individuals they’re designed for. “There’s a need for people to come from humanities to question what is being built by companies like the one I work for, and ask how, if this gets into the wrong hands, will it be used,” said panelist Geoffrey Colon, Head of Brand Studio at Microsoft Advertising. “Someone needs to figure this out and say ‘We’re not about revenue. We’re about trust, privacy and consumer choice.’” 

Innovate with purpose

Consumer fears about the dangers and consequences of technology have been legitimized by major data leaks, hacks and scandals, but many marketers still fail to take them seriously — to their own detriment. Brands have an uphill battle to climb to convince users of their technology’s value, but it’s not an impossible task. 

Brands and tech companies need to put the customer front and center of their innovation efforts — and not just talk the talk — as they design and develop new tools. Innovation cannot just happen for innovation’s sake. It should serve a bigger purpose and be steered with a positive end goal in mind. As Viant CMO Jon Schulz aptly put it, “There’s a lot of innovation, but where is the consumer benefit?” 

This new era of techlash requires brands to think more critically about the purpose and benefits of technology. Will they step up to the challenge and regain consumers’ trust? Tell us what you think in the comments below.