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Quebec’s Digital Brand Strategy Urges Travelers to Disconnect

5 Minute Read

Here’s a novel Instagram marketing idea: Tell your audience to turn off the phone.

Quebec Tourism is upending the typical brand strategy by telling travelers to do just that. Instead of pushing hashtags or drumming up user-generated content, the group is promoting Quebec as a place to disconnect from all the noise of smartphones and social media.

Ironically, the campaign is centered on Instagram. The group partnered with several Instagram influencers to create mini-stories focused on their personal experiences in Quebec. In each story, the influencer begins by describing how he or she disconnected from social media in order to truly connect with the locale.

Instagram photographer Jess Dales, who claims nearly half a million followers on the platform, is one of the influencers showcased in the campaign. In the video story, the first shot shows Dales and photographer Ben Prescott handing over their cell phones; seconds later, the two are seen kayaking in the ocean, striding through an evergreen forest, laughing around a bonfire, and taking in the northern lights.

“This trip is really making me think a lot about how good it feels to share real life,” Dales says in the video.

“There’s some things you just can’t photograph,” Prescott adds.

The campaign’s tagline “How will you let go?” drives home the point: We’re all secretly yearning to switch off our phones and experience a true adventure, perhaps in Quebec. Thanks to the use of influencers, the message boosts its authenticity factor.

More importantly, in a sea of Instagram marketing campaigns promoting this or that hashtag, Quebec’s message to disconnect stands out. Quebec is so special you’ll want to turn off your phone.

Smartphone Fatigue

Quebec’s counterintuitive Instagram message works because it recognizes its audience’s pain points. Deep down, everyone gets sick of their phone and could use a digital break, silencing the endless stream of news feeds, messages, and notifications.

Indeed, a survey from Hill Holliday / ORIGIN found a third of people age 18 to 24 have quit one or more social media platforms entirely, while 64 percent have taken a temporary break. The top two reasons for quitting social media: wasting too much time on it, and too much negativity, according to eMarketer.

reasons why youth quit social media chart

Given the apparent psychological effects of too much social media or smartphone use, it’s no wonder many young people are shying away. Facebook is a big culprit. Researchers found that use of the platform was associated with diminished wellbeing, as reported in Harvard Business Review.

As many smartphone users might attest, smartphones themselves can also become a burden. Experts warn excessive cell phone use can trigger anxiety and stress. As a response to this digital angst, some people are going back to the stalwart flip phone as way to be in the moment.

Greater awareness about the negative impacts of social media and smartphone use has created an opening for brands to tell a new kind of story. Quebec’s Instagram video series responds to these concerns by highlighting our deep desire for real-life connection versus fleeting digital interactions.

Alternative Narratives

Quebec isn’t the only brand to capitalize on our nascent desire to press pause on technology. Several brands have recognized this growing segment and have developed brand stories that appeal to those seeking freedom from the shackles of their devices.

In Dublin, for example, travelers can sign up for the “Digital Detox Package” at the Westin, where guests must turn in their smartphones in exchange for a “detox survival kit,” including a board game, walking map and tree-planting kit. The hotel says demand is high for the deal, according to online publication Highsnobiety.

digital detox westin dublin

Other brands are utilizing no-smartphone rules to create more meaningful experiences while simultaneously fostering buzz. Meantime Brewing Company created a tiny pop-up bar in London with a single rule. Patrons must hand over their phone to enjoy a pint, sans technology. The pop-up concept dovetailed with its “Make Time For It” campaign, which is grounded in the idea that technology is eroding our ability to enjoy free time.

The no-phone rule—unusual in an industry that relies on social media and digital connectivity for reviews and buzz—shows that the message of disconnecting has striking marketing appeal.

While Headspace doesn’t urge users to turn off their phones—the company has popularized meditation through its app, after all—it does embrace messages critical of technology. Headspace aims to promote mindfulness through meditation, and technology, it has noted on its blog, can be an impediment.

Quebec’s countercultural message of challenging users to turn off their phones—a crazy ask, given how often we rely on our phones while traveling—is reminiscent of another brand that bucked the mainstream with its brand strategy. Outdoor supplier REI’s move to shutter its stores on Black Friday meant fewer sales but a mountain of brand goodwill. Instead of shopping, the brand encouraged fans to get outdoors and tag pictures with #OptOutside. While REI doesn’t ask users to forgo social media, it made a splash with its counterintuitive message.

Quebec’s future visitors may still decide to carry their smartphones and Instagram every detail of their visit. But the disconnect message of their campaign hints at our deeper desire to create meaningful experiences as we travel. Quebec stands out for embracing an unusual narrative. A digital marketing campaign can be great, even when it encourages a digital disconnect.

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Featured image attribution: Felix Serre

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Krystal Overmyer is a freelance journalist specializing in digital marketing trends. Her experience spans over a decade in journalism, public relations, and digital communications.

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