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Technology World Consumer Goods

Is your brand a digital polluter? Five ways to reduce online waste

By Sarah Cantillon | Managing partner



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March 10, 2020 | 5 min read

When you think of a toxic brand, you may think of one that has crossed the lines of social decency. However, there’s a different kind of toxicity at play in today’s digital ecosystem - the polluter. Brands are filling our minds with psychological waste on the internet and social media.


We know that increasing amounts of screen time is bad for mental health. Yet there’s still so much focus on content that’s only there to divert people’s attention and keep it fixed to the screen, with media thrown behind it to target again and again. This isn’t good for the wellbeing of audiences and it’s certainly not good for the businesses paying for it. And it’s also unnecessary - brands should be able to hit their business goals without polluting.

So, here are five ways to reduce your ‘waste’ online.

Consider the consumer’s emotions

Advertising is often created to pull on emotions, but brands should consider dialing back negativity (like pushing on feelings of guilt or shame). Instead, reframe conversations around positive emotions like achievement and celebration. Particularly on social media, which is a more personal space than TV. Look at the contrast between Sport England’s This Girl Can and the 2019 Christmas Peloton advert for example - one inspired, one shamed. And it’s clear which was received more favourably.

Don’t jump in where you don’t belong

Brands love a bit of banter on social media. But there’s a darker side to the cringeworthy attempts to jump into anything that happens to be trending; this is also fuelling the excessive content pollution on social. So if you’ve got a witty reply lined up for the latest in the #Megxit saga, consider if you have a place in the conversation. Is it relevant to your brand, is it an area you can authoritatively speak to, can you add a useful voice to it? If not, it’s just a forgettable PR stunt and a waste of time and attention.

Get people’s heads up

At Movement we believe the best digital content prompts people to disengage with screens and re-engage with the world, rather than dropping people into a mindless online rabbit hole. For example, a food brand could encourage cooking with the family. A sportswear brand could suggest people take in the scenery on their walks and runs. If you’re providing real value, people will come back when they’re ready for more. It’s also worth bearing in mind that from a UX perspective, you should avoid dark patterns - when the journey is over, allow your audience to feel like they can step away. Don’t try and keep them hooked in for the sake of dwell times.

Turn to technology

Digital marketing isn’t all about screens. It’s also about understanding and involving new technologies in your work. Voice continues to grow globally; can this enhance your campaign? Can VR or AR keep people’s attention off their smartphones and more involved in experiencing your brand? Agencies need to broaden their tech playbook - as people become more aware of the negative impacts of screen time and (hopefully) begin restricting it, the marketers set up to succeed will be those that have a grasp on the full digital and technical ecosystem.

Reevaluate your metrics

Part of the motivation when it comes to constant content bombardment comes down to dominant but out-of-date metrics. Agencies are often being judged on how often a consumer sees content, not how often they interact with it, feel about it or even purchase as a result of it. We need to have some serious conversations with clients about priorities - is success likes, dwell time and eyeballs, or the most efficient route to the most effective business result? Which, if you need another reason to sell it, means less media spend.

It’ll take a while for perceptions of metrics to shift, but now’s the time to make it part of the bigger picture.

Sarah Cantillon, managing partner, Movement

Technology World Consumer Goods

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