By Danny Villanueva, Group Account Director
“Sooner or later, everything old is new again,” Stephen King once wrote — an observation that’s never been truer than today. Case in point, far from being dead, vinyl records sales rose to $416 million last year, the highest since 1988, and artists like the Black Keys, Lana Del Rey and Beck are eagerly embracing the format. Instant Polaroid-like cameras have caught on among millennials and their younger siblings thanks to shops like Urban Outfitters.
A new Pew survey shows that print books remain much more popular than books in digital formats. Old-school paper notebooks and erasable whiteboards are the go-to technology among many Silicon Valley types, and even typewriters are enjoying a renaissance in today’s post-Snowden, surveillance-conscious era.
Analog experiences provide the kind of real-world pleasures and rewards digital ones can’t. Pen and paper can give writers and designers a direct means of sketching out their ideas without the complicating biases of software, while whiteboards can bring engineers out from behind their screens and entice them to take risks and share ideas with others.
In an increasingly digital world where physical objects and experiences are being replaced by virtual ones, analog gives us the joy of creating and possessing real, tangible things: the hectic scratch of a fountain pen on the smooth, lined pages of a notebook; the slow magic of a Polaroid photo developing in front of our eyes; the satisfying snap of a newspaper page being turned and folded back; the moment of silence as the arm of an old turntable descends toward a shiny new vinyl disk and the music begins to play.
But the choice consumers and marketers face isn’t one between digital and analog. That simplistic duality is actually the mindset that digital has conditioned us to believe: a false binary choice between 1 and 0, black and white, Samsung and Apple. The real world isn’t black or white. It is not even gray. Reality is multicolored, infinitely textured, and emotionally layered. And it’s often analog — perhaps less efficient, less perfect, less speedy — which best captures those human imperfections, creating a tactile interface with the world.
The sweet spot is a harmonious blending of the two technologies. The idea that it’s one or the other is the false narrative of digital. If you go into a coffee shop or an agency, people are going to have a notebook or field notes next to their iPhone and their MacBook. They might listen to Spotify when they’re taking the subway to the office, but they’ll go home and put on the record collection. They might read certain books and magazines on tablets but other books on paper.
People want balance. Ten years ago, the attraction was that everything in your life would become digital. You wouldn’t need any distractions; you would live in a perfect, uncluttered, Zen-like house where you would stream your art to the wall.
The buzzwords around digital and innovation are pitched very frequently as “the” solution. Agencies and brands need to be digital, need to be social, need to be mobile. This is the future and this is what everything is and this is what you have to do to be innovative. Too often, that gets translated into, “Just do a bunch of digital things and you’ll have an impact.” But the reality is, you can maybe have a more meaningful or lasting impact for your brand by figuring out what your analog strengths are and the ways you can connect with a consumer on that level. That’s going to be a deeper and more lasting connection than chasing likes or social views.
If you open up a store or you do a campaign where you’re sending people things, it might seem more outwardly costly or less innovative, but it has the ability to connect with consumers on a much deeper level. That is something that is becoming more valuable as everyone else goes out there and farms for the same likes and clicks and shares as you are.
Print is great. People read more of the ad, they see it and you get a longer impression and a bigger impact with it. But there’s been a stampede away from it. Not because it’s been less effective, but because people have the assumption that it is dead and that the money would be better spent in digital.
Net/net, think about zigging where everyone else is zagging, and what the real long-term value of analog is. Whether it’s a radio ad, or an ad in a print publication, or a paper or a billboard. It’s not necessarily as easy or cheap, but it definitely engages in a different way.