Are social marketing brands killing society?

Brand commentator Jonathan Gabay asks whether social media is doing more harm than good.

New research from online insurance brand, e-sure, reveals that over a week, one in five couples spend as little as three hours and 45 minutes communicating together. Fifty-one of those minutes are in silence watching television and thirty-seven minutes carrying out household tasks.

Rather than talking, couples filter interaction through social networking sites, texts and emails. Annually, couples send each other 1,002 texts and approaching 400 emails.

From a marketing point of view, none of this really comes as a huge surprise.

Branded services such as Skype and Apple’s FaceTime appear to offer society effortless communication. However, appearances can be deceptive.

Rather than meeting ’eye-to-eye’, brands encourage people to peer endlessly at screens on PC tablets, mobiles, laptops and so on.

Take business airline travellers. As soon as the aircraft comes to halt, they scram for their iPhones, Blackberries and so on; continuing to use their technology to touch lovers and spouses at each step of their journey out of the airport terminal:

“Just leaving the plane”.
“Just picking up my bags”
“Just waiting for the bus to arrive.”

Then there are those at work who scour Facebook, Twitter… to discover what every other lost soul is doing. (Usually checking Facebook).

Technology-led online society is marketed to make us feel more productive – and so admired by our peers.

Rather than nurture physical relationships, people spend every spare moment managing their in-boxes and social media pages.

Such pages have become personal outposts on various social networking sites, aimed to attract like-minded tribal members.

When a person no longer constantly receives text email, or social networking updates he or she feels ’out of the social loop.’

Google will answer your prayers

A book called, Persuasive technology: computers to change what we think and do, notes key opportune moments to grab a person’s attention:

– when their worldview no longer makes sense.
– when they feel indebted because of a favour.
– immediately after they have made a mistake.
– immediately after they have denied a request.

The vulnerable are offered online refuge and community support. (A comfort once sought from religion).

As society feels less and less assured of itself, online becomes the strong channel of choice to reach people.

Esure notes that couples living in major cities like Glasgow and London text or email each other the most. This coincides with statistics showing that the UK population will swell to 70 million people by 2027.

All the 70 million – especially in the cities (which attract greater numbers job hunters) will at some point, seek kinship with others going through similar experiences).

Meanwhile today at work, open-plan offices paradoxically exacerbate the need for privacy. That desire for space drives technology-centric brands to bridge gaps.

Whereas previously workers walked to other’s offices for conversation, today to avoid being overheard, they email – often across just a few desks.

The net result is that increasingly people feel more comfortable living within their consciousness. Online brands encourage us to feel connected through actually becoming further disconnected.

From dreams of vacations via holiday sites, to blogging… the online brand either helps us escape from the crowd, or gives us a reason to be heard and valued.

Branding has always been about perceptions.

Marketers use elaborate techniques to suggest a desirable image in the mind of a potential consumer.

They have done well. In fact, they have become so successful that perceptions are now more potent than reality.

And all this was bought to light by of all organisations – an online insurance brand.

Oh the bittersweet irony.

Brand commentator, Jonathan Gabay is founder of brandforensics.co.uk. On the faculty of Chartered Institute of Marketing, his many books are referred to throughout the marketing industry, they also form part of key curricula for marketing students throughout the world.

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