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The Message of the Summer: Unplug

We were delighted to hear designer and author Ingrid Fetell Lee’s keynote at the Gartner conference. Through extensive (but fun!) research, she identified ten “aesthetics of joy”, each revealing distinct connections between the feeling of joy and qualities of the world around us. In her book “Joyful”, she breaks down each aesthetic with illuminating stories, from a miraculous revitalization in Tirana, Albania by simply painting buildings vibrant colors, to the power of a drawer of confetti for office morale.


The third aesthetic on her list: Freedom: nature, wilderness and open space.

In this chapter, she highlights the healing powers of a window in a hospital room, the simple sensation of feeling blades of grass beneath your feet and even references a correlation between a lack of green space and violence among residents in a housing project in Chicago. She compares the joyful freedom of being in nature to the last day of school or the Friday at 5 feeling.

Nature is liberating, healing, and we need it.

Lately, we feel an urgency to restore in nature, but there’s something (literally) in our way. Our phones. But we already know that — we get push notifications telling us new stats about screen time, we look at our time spent on our apps and we boast about how we were away from our phones on weekend camping trips.

We know we need to unplug, so brands are here to reinforce that. While this message is (ironically) coming to us through digital marketing messaging on social media apps, the message is loud and clear. Brands across all industries want to play the good guy in this story by encouraging us all to unplug from our over-connected lives and spend quality time outdoors. But this time, don’t ‘gram about it.

Below are three examples of brands, campaigns and influencers encouraging fans to unplug:

North Face

Through a beautiful, energetic video served to a 214er in a Sponsored Instagram ad, North Face is hitting viewers in their guts with some inspiration. The message is combatting phone usage head on, complementing its branded hashtag #neverstopexploring: Unplug from our always on lives, turn on Explore Mode and connect in real life.

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Imagery of Millennials having fun in forests and concrete jungles alike leave viewers inspired to get off Instagram and enjoy the outdoors.

Note: North Face has also joined a handful of other brands like Coca Cola in wiping its feed of all old content, starting fresh for its Earth Day campaign (“Earth Day should be a national holiday).


The file-sharing platform is encouraging users to get off screens and spend more time making connections and being creative. The tagline is simple: Welcome to WeTransfer. Please leave.


The campaign video features a quippy, thought-provoking poem written and narrated by Roxane Gay. The script and imagery contrast bright, energetic shots with the drab, blue screen light and make you want to throw away your laptop and start connecting in real life.

It’s easy to dismiss “unplug” messaging from brands due to feelings of inauthenticity. WeTransfer contrasts the reality of people using their software with the aspirational goal of spending as little as time as possible on tech in a refreshing way.

Honda and Chris Burkard

In a paid partnership adventure photographer and #HondaPartner Chris Burkard takes screen time from a different approach. The piece starts by sharing a surprising stat that we scroll 300 feet on social media every day and asks, “What would you do with 300ft?”


Burkard and his crew documented their mini adventure of getting 300 feet in the air in the desert in Utah. The concept and footage change the perspective of how we think about our time spent on social media. We appreciate the reframe, as well as Honda giving Burkard the reigns to tell the story.

We can’t help but point out the irony of brands using Instagram to tell people to get off Instagram (but, we’re guilty of it too). While the message seems to be well-received, will consumers get burnt out with brands getting preachy, telling them to get off their phones?

It’s summer! Go get some dirt under your fingernails. And throw away your phone. And laptop. And cancel Netflix.

Laura Oxler



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