On the cusp of a “look up movement”

Brands should help get people to put down their phones, and Marketelle's Jessie Sternthal explains why.

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By Jessie Sternthal

I know. We’re in the mobile age. I get it. I help our clients use it wisely and my parents use it… period. I’m lost and naked and anxious when I leave my phone at home (which is kind of ironic because that would make a great photo).

Really, I’m on board as much as you all are, partly by choice and mostly by necessity. But I can’t help feel a shift is in order when it comes to our phone-induced fanaticism.

Perhaps this photographer said it best with his recent viral, and rather haunting, photo series where he digitally removed the phones from photos of everyday situations.

Our news, weekend plans, TV shows, movies, stores, conversations, contacts, music, photos, home videos, work, work away from work, banking, reservations, boarding passes, weather, running coaches, alarm clocks, pedometers, Donald Trump’s latest trump, fertility trackers, GPS systems, Thursday night’s date, Friday morning’s texts-to-sister-recounting-Thursday’s-date and our first unborn genetically-perfect children are all in our damn phones. How amazing, and frightening.

It seems the one thing our phones can’t do yet is tell us all to shut up and look up at the real life moment we’re currently missing (although, that’s not a bad idea for an app).

On a recent magical trip to New York, I was, for the first time in a very long time, astounded. Not by the golden fall leaves in Bryant Park, the identical Hassidic triplets with white-blue eyes or even the woman wearing five coats singing “We Are The World” to a pigeons somewhere near Union Square.

I was astounded by the hoards of people around me who were missing all of it.

Instead, they were staring down at their tiny Facebook walls, Twitter feeds, text windows and chrome-filtered selfie poses – shuffling along sidewalks like droves of sleepwalking robots – missing New York completely. Mostly tourists like us, who also paid hundreds, if not a couple thousand dollars to see, enjoy and experience the city on a perfect fall weekend. They may as well have been home on their couches.

When we’re always looking down we aren’t looking up. And when we aren’t looking up, we’re absent. We’re not connecting, experiencing, attracting, flirting with, enjoying or living anything. And isn’t that counter to what all brands want and need from their consumers? Because a brand experience that goes beyond the tiny screen – that bravely invites people to experience something real, tangible, human and memorable – is personally the kind of brand experience I respond to most today.

Sure, the pressure on agencies to get more digital, more mobile, more ahead of things is real and loud. But what if achieving that came from reminding everyone that regardless of how addicted we are to our devices, we can’t ignore the real life that’s in session around us.

There are some recent examples of brand work that has embraced what I like to call, the “look up movement” with gusto and creativity.

Check out this killer initiative from Brazilian beer brand, Polar. It created a beer bottle cooler sleeve that cancelled out wifi signals in bars across Brazil, both reminding – and forcing – patrons to actually talk to each other! Hence, equating their beer with the best kind of night.

And a lovely initiative from UNICEF, which challenges people to shut down their phones in order to raise money for clean drinking water around the world. Essentially, the longer you don’t surf, post or text – the more money gets raised. Beautiful.

And what about this nifty new app that doesn’t shut mobile off, but uses it to enhance a collective, social experience – thereby eliminating that solo, alienating phone behaviour. The free AmpMe App allows a single host to sync streamed music off multiple phones in the same place. In other words, friends hanging out can create one, amazing speaker and therefore, one collective party. No ear buds in sight.

So why should brands invest in initiatives, campaigns and stunts that actually get people to shut down, look up and experience each other and the world around them more – in a digital age? Because that’s where the good stuff is happening. The stuff that makes you feel, connect and associate – the trifecta of perfect brand work.

Technology is an amazing thing.

But so is a really good band playing on a street corner and laughing with a four-year-old until Diet Coke comes out of your nose.

jessie_1Jessie Sternthal is a senior writer at Marketelle

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock