When I started out in advertising, there were just a handful of ways of connecting with people – only five or six media channels. But today, there are so many more.
That’s exciting, because there are more opportunities. But that also creates challenges, because people have become so used to filtering out information that they don’t want.
"The more digital our lives become the more we want a balance."
In this day and age, you have to be much more subtle. Although the idea still stands that as an advertiser, you have to be one of two things: interesting or useful. And if you can be both, well, that’s even better. Some of the most impactful pieces of marketing these days are the ones that are physical and keepable. That’s what stands out, simply because so much is digital.
The importance of interactivity
We’re going to see more innovation that ticks both boxes, innovations such as the Nike+ FuelBand, which was developed with the help of creative agency R/GA. It had obvious utility and the communication around it was compelling. It launched in 2012 and, already, the technology seems a bit outdated, but that just suggests to me that our appetite for interactivity is insatiable. In the future, I think technology will develop so that an element of interactivity will be woven into almost everything that creative agencies do. I wouldn’t be surprised if that even applies to the kind of advertising and marketing that we get through the letterbox.
"With mail you get to touch, feel, see the quality and smell. that is evocative, and it can’t be achieved by pixels."
To an extent, that’s already happening, with some leading the way, taking a future vision in the present. Take, for instance, Saatchi & Saatchi, they did a direct mail campaign for an eye care provider called OPSM. It was a children’s bedtime storybook called Penny the Pirate (which was also available as an app) that allowed parents to read along with their children and use a series of fun tests to screen them for eye conditions. The results could be entered online and, if necessary, an appointment could be booked straightaway.
Another trend beginning to take shape, and sure to become commonplace, is for people to want to engage with brands that have a purpose beyond profit. When the growth, profit and sustainability agendas all intersect, it can be a powerful thing. We’ve seen it with Lifebuoy, a Unilever hand soap brand that aims to drive down infant mortality in Indian villages. Of course, if people don’t have what they need to wash their hands thoroughly, disease can spread more easily. So it makes perfect sense – and they’ve really shown their support through action. The rise of digital and social media means that we are becoming more socially conscious – we are privy to things happening around the world that we might not have been before – and I think that, as a result, there will be more demand for other companies to follow suit.
Data and creativity
Data, too, has had a major impact. It has taken on an influential and sometimes contentious role in modern creative agencies. I was at an event in New York recently and someone asked me if I thought big data drives creativity. I think my answer might have disappointed them – but I had to say that I don’t think it does. Often it’s used ineffectively. No one wants to be chased around the internet by that pair of chinos they didn’t buy from GAP. And the industry has a big problem with fraud. Often brands pay for eyeballs – but that’s really measured in clicks. And sometimes those clicks are being generated by a bot, rather than a human being. The upshot is that people care about that type of advertising less. And, as a result, brands will pay less for it. That can easily lead to a vicious downward spiral.
"Some of the most impactful pieces of marketing these days are the ones that are physical and keepable."
So I don’t believe that the rise of digital and big data means that it’s the end for other forms of advertising. It just means that their role will have to change. The mail’s role might not be about mass circulation, but it will certainly have a role. One of the reasons it will is because in an increasingly digital life, people want real experiences. Did TV kill cinema? Did cinema kill radio? One of the reasons that festivals and live music are so popular now is that people have realised that they don’t want to experience music just on Spotify.
I see it as part of a broader tendency for people in the 21st century to be drawn towards experiences that offer multi-sensory stimulation. The more digital our lives become, the more we want a balance. That’s where mail scores – but like anything, it has to be good. Done well, direct mail is a wonderful thing.
With a piece of print or mail, you get to touch it, feel it, see a better quality image, smell the paper. All that stuff is evocative, and none of it can be achieved by pixels.
Tim Lindsay has spent the past 36 years in advertising. Over that time he has been Joint Managing Director of BBH, President of Lowe Worldwide and Chairman of Publicis UK.
Tim thinks the proliferation of digital is making physical mail even more impactful. Do you agree?
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