Silicon Valley Marketing

Silicon Valley’s Brain Hacking Advertising Techniques— Invasive or Not?


by Baxter Parrott

Recently 60 minutes aired a piece with an engineer named Tristan Harris who is redefining the stigma of greed and excess wealth that has become synonymous with Silicon Valley since the tech boom.

Harris is using his platform to raise awareness of the “Dirty” tricks that engineers use to keep your attention on your smart phone. He speaks out as one of few Silicon Valley engineers that are addressing what is wrong and invasive with the way these big companies advertise to you every single day.

Harris compares the fascination we have with checking our phones excessively to that of a slot machine. You might ask how this compares.

Well, the explanation is rather simple.

When you pull the lever of a slot machine there is a chance you will see something good when the numbers or images finally become steady. With your iPhone sometimes when you check your phone you see something new and positive in the sense that you are getting attention and sometimes you come up with nothing— but this is why you keep clicking.

We pull the lever because there is a chance we might see a set of numbers or characters that means that something good has happened— just the same as when you check your phone there is a chance you will see something exciting and good as well. We keep checking our phones hoping for something to make our lives more exciting, which is why we get so hooked.

One example Harris cited in an interview on CBS’s CBS This Morning is Snapchat, a now publicly traded Social Media network, and the way they keep users active and consistent actually adds a lot of stress on the world’s youth.

If you are not familiar with a “Snapstreak” you are not alone, however to many maintaining a Snapstreak on their smartphone might start as a playful way to connect but can quickly evolve into a daily chore. Snapstreak’s essentially put a holy number next to another Snapchatter’s name that shows how many days in a row you and that user have Snapped one another.

Initially this can be fun but after a while Harris explains that some children might gain stress because they know that forgetting to snap that person could end something special that you shared with the other user. If this example doesn’t resonate with you, don’t worry as it’s only one of a million ways that companies are seemingly overdrawing the line when it comes to user relations.

Stress often times comes from not just the fact that their phone is constantly in charge but for the fact that they are constantly enticed to see what they might have missed. We learned in the 60 Minutes Special with Anderson Cooper entitled “Brain Hacking” that the average smart phone user checks their phone every 15 minutes. Iphone users check even more.

The reason why this statistic is important is because this proves that we are officially hooked on our phones. While phones once were for mere communication today they are used for something much more— complete connection.

Smart phone users have a desire to feel completely connected at all times because the way social media is set up nowadays if they are constantly checking their phones they have a chance to never miss a beat.

An intriguing topic covered in Anderson Cooper’s 60 minutes piece was the discussion of a steroid hormone that deals greatly with the stress we feel from our smartphones. The hormone is known as cortisol and was once one of the most important hormone’s for survival in the human body.

While cortisol once was used by early earth natives to protect themselves in times of danger or to stay vigilant during a time things might go wrong, today it is almost totally controlled by our daily tech stress.

One way tech companies keep us consistently involved in our phones is by using a technique called “Gamification”. Gabe Zickermann is a tech wizard who specializes in gamification. He describes the technique as using techniques from video games to incorporate fun into online products while making them irresistible.

Lots of techniques like this exist to keep users engaged and they can be incorporated into a variety of fields. Zickermann mentioned several examples including the Fit-Bit where you can compare your work-out progress with your friends creating a competitive atmosphere that will make things more interesting and keep you using the app.

Another example that might be a little more relatable is the use of advertising based on what you have been recently researching. Have you ever noticed when you’re on a website like Facebook and something you’ve already shown interest in the past on a site like Amazon will appear on the sides of your screen? This is no accident.

Websites like Amazon, Ebay and even smaller retailing sites make your information public to other companies so that you will be constantly reminded of something you’ve viewed or left unpurchased in your shopping cart. Doesn’t that seem a little intrusive to you?

An argument could be made that the world is changing and that the art of selling a product must change with it. The only problem is this way of thinking leaves aspects of privacy and forced emotional attachment in the past. No matter what your stance is on the evolution of Emarketing or the efforts companies may take in 2017 to keep their product relevant and consistent, you must always be wise to what you don’t see.

Harris explained that on average smartphone users check their phones once every 15 minutes, don’t you think that could be by design? Companies spent 31 billion dollars on advertising in 2016 but how big an effect did it have on you personally? Whether you believe these Silicon Valley tactics are invasive or not it never hurts to pay attention.

You can hear more about how these companies might be misusing their influence and more from Tristan Harris in his 60 minutes interview here:

In this article