Forget juice cleanses and yoga retreats – the latest wellness trend is as simple as switching off your phone. A report released in August by Ofcom revealed that UK adults are increasingly undertaking periods of ‘digital detox’ – actively spending time away from the internet to escape the stresses of always-on living. Consumers are ditching social media, emails and web browsing for days, even weeks, at a time to spend more time with friends and family. Rather than seeing this as an obstacle to overcome, brands should embrace the trend for digital-downtime and look for ways to help consumers enjoy their time offline.
Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2016, a survey of 2,025 adults, including 500 teenagers, found that one in three adult internet users (34%) – equivalent to 15 million people in the UK – has intentionally spent a period of time offline. A quarter (25%) of these spent a day web-free, another 20% took a week off and 5% took time out for a whole month.
Of those surveyed, the largest majority (44%) said that they took their internet break to do other things and 38% said their reason was to spend more time with friends and family. It’s not just individuals getting involved; venues around the capital – including newly opened restaurant Bunyadi, Brixton nightclub Phonox and an East London bookshop – have asked customers to ditch their devices, and last year the UK even celebrated its first annual ‘National Unplugging Day’.
Many report that their detox was a positive experience, with some saying they felt more productive and enjoyed life more. However, 16% said they experienced ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO), while 15% said they felt lost or cut-off after they stopped checking their notifications.
This detoxing trend may be worrying to brands that are increasingly investing in digital formats to reach their consumers. The immediate response might be to try break through the detox by tempting them back online through other channels. However, this isn’t what these consumers want, and this kind of strategy will likely have negative connotations for brands. Instead, brands should look to engage with this growing digital detox trend by providing offline experiences that will encourage consumers to engage online when they ‘reconnect’.
This is where experiential activity can come into its own, and drive a meaningful connection with an offline audience. Drinks brand Innocent led the way with its Unplugged Festival, now in its second year. Festival-goers are asked to leave their smartphones at home and no Wi-Fi or electricity is available on site. According to brand activation manager Jamie Sterry, it offers people a “weekend off the grid to escape their busy, stressful city lives where they are constantly connected to friends, email and overloaded with information”.
The trend for digital detoxing is only getting stronger and will likely continue as more and more people seek a break from their hectic online lives. It’s important to realise, however, that the demands of connected living mean that these people will inevitably come back to their screens. Rather than tempting consumers back online, brands should use this as a an opportunity to help people enjoy their time off.