Phone Addiction, Design Manipulation and How it All Relates to Marketing


I’m in the middle of reading How to Break-Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price.

Which seems like an extreme title except for the fact that I, like most people, am a bit too attached to my little device.

Like when I realize I spent 45 extra minutes scrolling Instagram instead of going to bed. Or when not-so-mild panic sets in after not seeing my email in over an hour.

The irony? I’m reading the goddamn book on my phone!!

One step forward. Eight steps backward.

But my issues are neither here nor there. Kinda.

What I really want to talk about is the parallel between design and copy manipulation.

You see, there’s all these different ways our phones and apps are designed to keep up engaged and wanting more.

Like on Instagram, where the app is designed to withhold showing your “likes” until the right time. The right time being JUST when you are about to log off…oh and that time was selected by an algorithm based on your behavior.

While it’s easy to point fingers and call companies “evil” it’s human nature to focus on what’s right in front of us. It’s complicated. And it’s hard to sync your moral compass if there isn’t an obvious North Star.

And it got me thinking about how we as marketers use psychology and persuasion to create action. In many ways, it feels like we too are fighting for a short-term win. We all have moral limits but they can often feel undefined, tethered to a frisky North Star.

My guidepost, stolen from the oft-quoted Seth Godin, is to ask whether the customer will have buyer’s remorse after purchasing the product or service I’m writing copy for. If the answer is yes, I won’t move ahead.

But I’ve been wrong. And I try and be better next time. I’m evolving as a business owner and marketer. It’s tricky.

And as a marketer, I think the most powerful thing we can all do is avoid reducing customers to one-dimensional avatars. This forces us to consider them as people and not solely as conversion opportunities. It keeps us grounded in the present and hopefully the future.

This is all to say, I’m working on my relationship with my phone.

And I hope “tech” is working on their relationship with their customers. Because manipulation for the sake of manipulation isn’t a world I’m stoked about. But a world where empathy leads design and marketing decisions…that may be another thing entirely.

With that, let’s put down our phones until we get a tad uncomfortable and get a little bored together.

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Amy Lipner