December 6th, 2019

The Rise of Anti-Tech Messaging


Ace Metrix

Technology is transforming every aspect of life at unprecedented rates, for better and worse. However, the glory years filled with lots of growth and very little regulation might be coming to an end. 

Increasing scrutiny from governments over data privacy, antitrust issues, social media election interference and digitally-transformed human habits has led to greater awareness and skepticism among consumers as well. As with any change in attitudes, brands have caught on with some taking an anti-digital/social media/tech stance in their ads. 

Nike was among the first to comment on the matter in a 2016 spot pointing out (err shaming?) consumers’ smartphone addictions. While the trend is nothing new, 2019 has seen anti-digital messaging spread across industries. Even some tech companies have jumped on the bandwagon — existential crisis? Or is it the start of the tech industry’s version of “Please Drink Responsibly”? 

Among the most recent entries into the anti-tech spots, HP encouraged consumers to “Get Real” (including holiday creative) by highlighting the disturbing effects of our digital lives:

HP “Get Real”


Around the same time, The Wall Street Journal echoed HP’s sentiments in a campaign challenging consumers to read beyond social media, misinformation & digital issues (such as click-bait media):

The Wall Street Journal “Read Yourself Better”


Humorous takes on technology popped up among this year’s Super Bowl ads, with robots and voice assistants getting most of the spotlight. One spot in particular had a dark interpretation of technology’s impact. In Simplisafe’s “Fear is Everywhere, robots take our jobs, drones spy on us, and other sinister twists take place in the comic depiction of the world we live in:

Simplisafe “Fear is Everywhere”


A majority of viewers thought the Messages stood out as the Single Best Thing for each of the three ads above. These Messages contributed to Relevance’s role as one of the key creative drivers, as shown in their ad personalities below. Attention was also another consistently strong aspect among the three:

Ad Personalities: HP, WSJ, SimpliSafe

However, the tone throughout each shaped the emotional connection viewers experienced. While all were dark at times, The Wall Street Journal and SimpliSafe ended with product endorsements as the uplifting solution, whereas HP’s “Get Real” was more of a corporate branding initiative with no products in the spotlight. This resulted in higher scores on negative emotional metrics like Preachy, Mean and WTF for Wall street Journal and SimpliSafe. While there was a bit of weak signal on those metrics for HP as well, it was balanced out by positive emotions like Heartfelt, Narrative, and Corporate Responsibility.

Emotional Profiles: HP, WSJ, SimpliSafe

As shown in the emotional profiles, But was the strongest response triggered for each ad indicating viewers expressed internal conflict — liking some/most aspects, but not others. Viewers of HP’s “Get Real” felt positively towards the message. Where conflict arose was the ad’s length and/or the messenger, with some finding it hard to come to terms with a tech company delivering an anti-tech message (Incredulous signal). For “Read Yourself Better” the favorable aspects were the Attention-grabbing visuals and Relevant Message, but it was too long for some & creative execution (Frenetic) led to confusion.

Anti-Tech Messaging Gains Traction in Alcohol Industry

Younger generations are drinking less than their older counterparts — perhaps in fear of losing control in the dawn of social media surveillance — and favoring weekend nights in with Netflix and wine over bars and clubbing. So it was only a matter of time before alcohol brands would begrudge technology publicly.

Miller Lite most recently joined the club with a campaign reminding viewers of the melancholy reality of social media and that “a few friends are better than a few thousand followers”:

Miller Lite “Followers”


Earlier this year, Grey Goose subtly encouraged viewers to put down their phones and enjoy the present in a 15-second spot, which was part of their larger “Live Victoriously” campaign:

Grey Goose “Live Victoriously – No Phone”


And in 2018, Stella Artois lightheartedly scorned phones in multiple ads, going so far as to spoof an anti-smartphone fashion line. In “Pocket Master,” a man overwhelmingly talking on two phones visits a bar where all the patrons keep theirs in their pockets so as to not distract from the present moment:

Stella Artois “Pocket Master”


The “phones down, live in the moment” messaging from Grey Goose & Stella Artois resonated best with older Millennials and Gen X. Meanwhile, Miller Lite’s anti-social media ad found it’s strongest appeal among younger Millennials and Gen X (ages 21+) where use of such platforms is more prevalent:

Ace Score by Age for Miller Lite, Grey Goose, Stella Artois

Their individual creative approaches are reflected in the emotional connections each formed with viewers. However, across the board viewers expressed some level of internal conflict, as measured by But. A majority of the time that there was signal on the But metric, the agreeable nature of the ad was the anti-digital messages, as shown in a handful of viewer comments further below.

Top Emos: Miller Lite, Grey Goose, Stella Artois

Miller Lite “Followers”:

“The chasing gave me anxiety however the message at the end was great” Female 21-35

“it was long, but had a good point at the end” Female 36-49

“It peaked my interest immediately and I was confused at first and wanted to learn more. I loved the message in the end. Actual interaction with good friends as opposed to the cold, unfriendly ‘blurbs” with followers. Made me want to drink a beer with a good friend.” Female 50+

“I didn’t really understand it until the end, but I do like the message” Female 21-35

Grey Goose “No Phones”

“Took a few to for the ad to reveal the genius but it sure did. I’m so sick of people living on phones in public” Male 36-49

“i get the symbolism but oh my good seeing her balance a glass with a tall stem on a smartphone made me so anxious. if i’m shelling out for grey goose it’s going in a sippy cup because i cannot afford to spill” Female 21-35

“I liked the feel of it, and I liked the anti-phone message of it. I don’t like Vodka, but I liked the ad.” Male 21-35

Overall, tapping into viewers’ insecurities and concerns about technology will surely drive Relevance and the Message could gain some brownie points. However, it’s not a hall pass for all the other creative elements as the But signal indicated for each ad discussed. Furthermore, the tone shapes the emotional impact on viewers, where the more pessimistic the ad the more negatively viewers perceive the message and the messenger. All things to consider if your brand is going to tackle tech.


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