Will This Pandemic End the Stigma of Digital Life?

Brands need to embrace the way we really live

Digital life has always carried a heavy stigma. Many people still see meeting up online as something that's weird or even unhealthy. It's time that changed, and it's time for brands to embrace the enormous opportunities that the virtual world offers them. This crisis has the potential to do just that.

Life is inherently digital now, whether we like it or not. Today's youth have grown up in a world where Fortnite is the main place you hang out with your friends, where tight bonds are formed by battling and communicating together as a squad. Social circles are defined and labeled by infinite WhatsApp groups, where jokes and ideas are constantly shared. They feel misunderstood and judged by the generations above them who perceive them as being "glued to their screen" and constantly being "alone."

Over the last six months, We Are Pi has been talking to experts from all walks of culture to get to the bottom of what our society is today. The result is "The New Society Rules," a research platform created to help brands make sense of today's biggest cultural shifts.

What's clear is that digital life isn't getting the respect it deserves, from society at large or from brands. Our research revealed an important new principle for marketers, advertisers and everyone else: to reject the stigmatization of digital life, or risk alienating entire generations.

Despite attracting major celebrities like Drake and Travis Scott, as well as higher viewing figures than the Champion's League, esports continues to be half-heartedly embraced by brands. While snack and energy brands have made moves into the space, very few others have. Just think how many brands crowd into the Olympics—why is gaming being treated so differently?

Digital dating is another virtual space that's still stigmatized despite its enormous popularity. Apps like Tinder are regularly portrayed in the media as solely being used for hookups, when what's really happening is that the multitude of digital platforms available is making people take dating more seriously.

The average single millennial is now spending 10 hours a week on dating apps, but brands are only cautiously dipping their toes in this water. As Scott Valdez, founder of online dating consultancy Vida Select, told us, "As online dating has become more mainstream, it's also become more competitive. The more seriously people take it, the more effort and time they put into it."

Our research also took us into the emerging world of "mate dating." We talked to Kristina Bapteste, who met her best friend through the Bumble BFF app. She told us about her fight for cultural acceptance: "People want to believe that meeting in person is the 'natural' way of starting relationships, but I don't believe that."

Brands should be embracing this new cultural reality of meeting people online. It's how most young people find romance today and will increasingly be an important way to make friends, too. But unfortunately, most lifestyle brands are still sticking to their comfort zones, depicting life as we knew it. They should be leading the charge in lifting the stigma and celebrating a new fundamental part of our lives.

Today's crisis and quarantine measures are, of course, accelerating the shift online. This is a moment where almost every relationship in our lives has gone digital—our relationships with our friends, our family, our colleagues, and everyone else.

We've all effectively been forced to take a more optimistic view of the online world. Many of us have realized it's not as bad as it's been made out to be.

So it's time we all rejected the stigma around digital life. The brands and marketers that embrace this will be the ones that seize new opportunities and accelerate into the future.

Profile picture for user Mark Lester
Mark Lester
Mark Lester is head of strategy at We Are Pi.

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