March 13, 2013

Q&A on ‘Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot’

Posted by: in North America

Paul Woolmington
Frank Rose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Monday, I spoke on a SXSW Interactive panel, “Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot,” along with Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion and correspondent for Wired, and marketing authority Paul Woolmington, co-founder of communications management consultancy Naked Communications Americas. The panel spotlighted our findings from a survey, designed in partnership with Rose, that explored the rising embrace of analog among consumers in the U.S. and the U.K. (Find the results in our new trend report on this topic.) As a complement to the panel and our report, we asked Rose and Woolmington for their insights into what’s driving this phenomenon, why it’s especially prevalent among Millennials and what it means for marketers.

To start, can you speak to why people are embracing analog as we spend ever more time in the digital world?

FR: Value is a function of scarcity—that’s why diamonds are expensive and glass is not—so the more time we spend looking at screens, the more rare and exotic the real world begins to seem. Plus, I think we’re seeing the evolution of engagement away from being primarily digital. Digital media allow for—and in many cases demand—active participation, so they provoke an entirely different sort of engagement from movies and TV. But now it’s beginning to seem that the future of immersive entertainment will be driven by a blending of old and new, of physical and digital. It’s almost as if the expectations of active engagement we bring to digital are spilling over into our experience of the real world.

But maybe I’m over-intellectualizing. The simple fact is, we’re physical creatures. We’re hardwired to respond to cues in the physical environment. That’s not going to change—unless Ray Kurzweil is right and we all get swept up into the singularity and trade our brains for silicon. Which could happen, but I sort of doubt it.

PW: We’re also emotional creatures. But as life becomes more hyper-connected and convenient, our worlds are being tilted toward the rational IQ sides of our brains. This leaves an increasing gap in the emotional EQ side, which leads us to yearn for and seek out analog objects and physical experiences.

We are at an important inflection point in our old/new digital society. The speed of change just keeps accelerating, and we haven’t yet fully understood the anxiety that results. We’ve gone from a digitally connected (old) world to a hyper-connected (new) world in a short few years and haven’t had time to fully adapt. We’ve been too busy learning and embracing the new to fully realize the repercussions. The opportunity at this inflection is to understand how citizens and society can not just do things more cheaply, easily and quickly but also emotionally connect in more meaningful and immersive ways across the digital-analog divide.Our survey found that people cite rational reasons—ease, speed, convenience and cost—for why they prefer to buy music, read news and do other things online. But they cite emotional reasons—better experience and comfort—when asked why they do things in the physical world. Can you explain this dichotomy?

FR: I think it has to do with our hardwiring. There’s no question that digital is more convenient—the amount of information I have at my fingertips today compared to 20 years ago is staggering. But emotion and efficiency are not the same thing at all.

PW: I agree. Digital doesn’t address our emotional needs. Digital meets our more rational needs—it’s faster and easier and lets us keep more control—but as human beings we need our emotional beings satisfied, and obviously that need isn’t being met by our digital experiences. Therefore, in order to balance that, we’re seeking the analog more than ever. We’re looking for more meaningful emotional experiences and connections. We’re seeking to rebalance our IQ and EQ states.

Abraham Maslow’s work on the hierarchy of needs, which parallels many other theories of developmental psychology, illustrates this dichotomy well. The four fundamental states, which Maslow called “deficiency needs,” are esteem, friendship and love, security and physical needs. If these needs aren’t met, then as humans we will feel anxious and tense. The human mind is complex and handles parallel processes at the same time, so the need to balance the rational with the emotional is at the heart of this. It explains why an “emotional void” in the digital world makes humans, even the most digitally hard-core, seek out analog experiences.

Can you speak to the role nostalgia plays?

PW: It’s fascinating that Millennials are the most nostalgic of all the groups researched, and perhaps counterintuitive. The research showed that 62 percent read e-books digitally but 78 percent yearn for the smell and feel of paper books. We’re hardwired for physical and emotional connection and meaning, so the more we are removed from them, the more we wish for them.

Nostalgia is a consequence of the loss of emotional connections and the anxiety that produces. In our new digitally driven world, which is moving at an ever faster pace, nostalgia takes on a deeper context: the sentimental yearning for things past that felt safe and secure and represent happier, less complex times.

FR: Nostalgia is always a powerful force, but in this case I think it has to do with the feeling that we’re standing at a threshold, about to enter some new form of existence. Just think about the words we use. For all that we spent decades watching ever more TV, nobody ever talked about TV being somehow different from “the real world.” But as we spend more and more of our time in virtual environments—which are still evolving and increasingly immersive—it’s only natural to want to have something to grab onto. And if you’re going to grab onto something, it had better be tangible.

We found that 59 percent of our respondents agreed that imperfections like scratches and scuffs give objects personality, especially Millennials (67 percent) and Gen Xers (60 percent). Why is this?

PW: Clearly, imperfections are an antidote to the sanitized, efficient and functional world of digital and technological perfection. The more we conform around digital products and services, the more likely we are to want to assert our individuality and character. That leads us to seek the authentic raw state.

The digital world strives for perfection. Look no further than Apple and its brethren. Imagine an Apple fragrance: It would be the scent of technology mixed with sleek aluminum, perfectly formed glass, light wood surfaces and no imperfections or patina.

In such a world, humans will increasingly crave authentic and nostalgic references and experiences as a counterbalance.

The greatest science fiction writers depict futuristic worlds that are enhanced by technology but have dystopian, anxious, emotionally void societies. These fictional worlds are inhabited by people yearning to fill their emotional voids with nostalgia and analog physical experiences. Prescient?

FR: Well, authenticity has been an issue for some time now. Holden Caulfield was railing against phonies back in the ’50s. Again, it’s a case of something being more and more valued as it grows scarce. Only now the whole question has gone into overdrive. I realized we had entered another stage when I was reading a book called Authenticity a few years back. It was fascinating from a marketing perspective, but when I got to the part where the authors drew a distinction between “real fake” and “fake real,” I figured it was all over.

Digital complicates things because it enables you to make an endless number of perfect copies. It used to be that even fake stuff could acquire a patina over time. But bits don’t degrade; only atoms do. So nothing acquires a patina unless it’s been rendered a physical form. Never mind what’s fake and what’s real: How can you even tell what’s old and what’s new? Again, it’s a case of needing to be grounded in some physical reality.

One of our most interesting findings is that the more one tends to do online, the greater one’s affinity for the physical and tactile, especially among Millennials and early adopters. Why is this?

FR: It is interesting, but when you think about it, it really makes sense. Millennials are more attuned to things digital than any other adults. And as alluring as the digital world may be, we’re all beginning to realize its limits. Millennials are in a better position to do so than anyone. If you’re looking at digital from the outside, as way too many older people still are, all you see is that everything looks wrong—but it only looks wrong because you’re looking at it through the lens of the past. When you’ve embraced it on its own terms, you’re in a position to criticize it much more intelligently.

Any interesting examples you’ve seen of people embracing analog?

PW: There are so many: old-school craft skills, hobbies, homemade goods, Etsy, home cooking, the farm-to-table trend, cooperatives, meet-ups. Airbnb, Uber, Warby Parker and Mealku are great examples of disruptive business models with digital-analog integration and both rational and emotional appeal.

FR: It’s pretty much everywhere: Etsy, the maker movement, the rise of artisanal everything—atoms are on the march.

How can marketers leverage this trend?

PW: Avoid the “emotional void” in your digital communications, marketing, products and services. To better serve consumers and create more powerful immersive relationships, marketers need to address the relationship between the rational and emotional states (IQ and EQ) across digital and analog platforms, channels and experiences.

The opportunity for marketers is to understand how citizens and society can not just do things more cheaply, easily and quickly but also connect emotionally in deeper ways across the digital-analog divide.

FR: The important thing is this: People are no more going to abandon digital than they’re going to abandon electricity. But even though we all have electricity, we still like to dine by candlelight. No one reads by candlelight anymore, because it’s too inefficient. But dining by candlelight is romantic, it sets a nice mood. So candles may be obsolete, but that doesn’t mean they’re going away. If you keep in mind that digital is for efficiency and convenience, and physical is for feelings of substance and emotional connectedness—for feelings generally—you can’t go too far wrong.

No Responses to "Q&A on ‘Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot’"

Comment Form

SXSW: Raging Against the Machine

SXSW: How Brands Can Get ‘Circular’ and Why They Must

New Trend Report: The Circular Economy

2014 iPad App

Updates

Sign up for Email Updates

JWT AnxietyIndex

Things to Watch

  • Nestlé’s animal-welfare standards
    August 28, 2014 | 10:00 am

    Nestle

    We wrote about rising concerns over treatment of the animals that people eat back in 2012 as brands including Burger King, McDonald’s and Hellmann’s pledged to institute more humane practices. We also included Humane Food among our Things to Watch for 2013. The trend recently picked up more steam with Nestlé’s announcement of animal welfare standards for its suppliers worldwide, following an investigation by the group Mercy for Animals.

    “The move is one of the broadest-reaching commitments to improving the quality of life for animals in the food system,” notes The New York Times, “and it is likely to have an impact on other companies that either share the same suppliers or compete with Nestlé.” Observed the influential blogger Food Babe: “People want to know where their food comes from, and in order to survive the next decade, the food industry will have to change.” —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Nestlé

  • Alternative waters
    August 19, 2014 | 1:59 pm

    Vertical Water

    With the coconut water craze going strong, watch for more variations on H2O thanks to consumer interest in more natural alternatives to soda and openness to novel products. Antioxidant-rich maple water (made from maple sap) is gaining attention, while almond water from the startup Victoria’s Kitchen has secured space at Whole Foods and Target. As the AP reports, there’s also cactus, birch and artichoke water—made from either water extracted from the plant or boiled with the ingredient in question—whose makers tout their vitamin and mineral content, as well as their infection-fighting properties. —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: Vertical Water

  • Smart mannequins
    August 13, 2014 | 5:01 pm

    Iconeme

    One of our Things to Watch in 2014, beacons have been popping up everywhere from airports to restaurants to museums. But the biggest pickup for these devices—low-cost transmitters that use Bluetooth to precisely track consumers’ mobile phones and send targeted content—has been among retailers. Now, British retailers including House of Fraser, Hawes & Curtis and Bentalls are testing mannequins outfitted with VMbeacon technology from the startup Iconeme.

    A “smart mannequin” enables nearby shoppers with a related mobile app to get details about what it’s wearing and how to find the products in the store or buy them online. The big question is whether customers will be motivated to opt in; skeptics say the technology doesn’t yet provide enough real benefit. —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: Iconeme

  • De-teching apps
    August 7, 2014 | 10:55 am

    De-teching—the idea that more people will choose to temporarily log off—was one of our 10 Trends for 2011, and in our 2014 trend Mindful Living, we discussed the idea that digitally immersed consumers will try to use technology more mindfully. Perhaps ironically, several new apps aim to help people do so.

    Moment tracks phone use and alerts users when they reach their self-imposed daily limit. Pause is “designed to help us reconnect with real life”; it encourages people to use Airplane Mode and engage in real-world activities, and attempts to turn this behavior into a game among friends. Finally, Menthal is part of a research project out of Germany that helps users find out, “Are you in control of your smartphone? Or is your smartphone controlling you?” —Marian Berelowitz

  • Intuitive eating
    July 29, 2014 | 5:00 pm

    Veggies

    As spotlighted in our 10 Trends for 2014 report, people are becoming more interested in Mindful Living, including the notion of eating more mindfully. And with consumers showing declining interest in dieting, the idea of “intuitive eating”—paying closer attention to the body’s hunger signals rather than following a strict regimen—has been steadily gaining traction. Recent media mentions include articles in Fitness and New Zealand’s Stuff, and a Refinery 29 writer is blogging about adopting the practice. With a recent analysis of studies finding that intuitive eating can be a successful strategy for people who are overweight or obese, watch for more consumers to embrace this anti-diet philosophy. —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: Theresa Kinsella

  • Chinese mega-cities
    July 24, 2014 | 1:15 pm

    Tianjin

    China, home to the world’s second largest rural population, is expected to add close to 300 million more urbanites by 2030, when Shanghai and Beijing will likely account for two of the world’s Top 5 mega-cities, according to new UN research. “We are observing one of the most significant economic transformations the world has seen: 21st-century China is urbanizing on a scale 100 times that seen in 19th-century Britain and at 10 times the speed,” notes a new McKinsey paper on cities and luxury markets. China’s wealth will be concentrated in these urban areas: Over the next decade, McKinsey expects Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Shenzhen, in addition to Hong Kong, to join the list of “top luxury cities.” —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Jakob Montrasio

  • Brands + Google Glass
    July 15, 2014 | 6:09 pm

    SPG

    As Google Glass makes its way into the hands of more people (last month it became available in the U.K.), brands are experimenting with the new possibilities that the platform affords. In March, Kenneth Cole became the first to launch a marketing campaign—the “Man Up for Mankind Challenge”—through a Glass app. Users were challenged to perform and document good deeds for the chance to win a prize.

    Starwood’s new Glass app, billed as the first such app from the hospitality sector, lets people voice-search its properties, view photos and amenities, get directions and book rooms. An array of other marketers have turned out apps for early adopters, from Sherman Williams’ ColorSnap Glass (easily create a paint chip that mirrors anything in view) to Fidelity (delivers daily market quotes for Glass wearers). —Tony Oblen

    Image credit: SPG

  • Ugly produce
    July 10, 2014 | 2:45 pm

    Intermarche

    Ugly Produce, on our list of 100 Things to Watch in 2014, is proliferating in Europe, thanks in part to government efforts to reduce the 89 million tons of food wasted in Europe each year. In France, Intermarché has been getting buzz for creating a produce section dedicated to “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”; a whimsical ad campaign reportedly drove a 24 percent rise in store traffic.

    U.K. supermarket Waitrose recently began selling packs of tomatoes that are misshapen or have fallen off the vine naturally. And in Portugal, Fruta Feia (“Ugly Fruit”) is a cooperative launched in late 2013 that sells unsightly produce that would have gone to waste. Per The New York Times, the group already has a waiting list of 1,000 customers. In line with one of our 10 Trends for 2014, Proudly Imperfect, watch for ugly produce to catch on with both retailers and shoppers. —Jessica Vaughn

    Image credit: Intermarché

  • The $1.25 Cube
    July 3, 2014 | 12:30 pm

    As we outline in Immersive Experiences, one of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond, entertainment and narratives are becoming more enveloping in a bid to capture consumers’ imagination and attention. An immersive project from JWT Israel, a winner of the Cannes Chimera challenge, aims to help people experience what it’s like to live in extreme poverty. Once it’s created, the cube will create a multisensory experience that uses tools like augmented reality to simulate sights, sounds and smells and elicit certain feelings. Participants can exit only when the person in line behind them inserts $1.25, a metaphor for the collaborative efforts needed to fight poverty. The aim is for the cube to travel to international events like the Davos conference in order to influence global leaders. —Hallie Steiner

    Image credit: JWT Israel

  • Google’s Android Auto
    June 26, 2014 | 3:00 pm

     

    Android

    The connected car is rapidly becoming a reality. Fast 4G LTE connections are turning vehicles into hot spots that come with a data plan, while Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are making their way onto dashboards. This week Google introduced Android Auto, with the first compatible cars expected by year-end. Apple’s similar CarPlay, which turns the car into a platform for an iPhone’s content, was announced in March and is included in new Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo models.

    Car-based app ecosystems will provide relevant info (traffic, maps, vehicle diagnostics, restaurant suggestions) and entertainment, combined with safety precautions like voice control. As we outline in our mobile trends report, connected cars—complete with Internet hot spots, a suite of apps and sensors that communicate—will eventually link up with drivers’ homes, mobile devices and other gadgets to form a seamless system. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Android

  • RSSArchive for Things to Watch »