Getting physical: how real is fighting back against online

The real world is on the offensive. With online titan, Amazon, having opened a new bookstore in Seattle, AML asks whether it’s time we re-addressed the digital/physical balance.

For years the online world has infiltrated more and more aspects of our lives, changing our consumption habits beyond recognition. Now big e-commerce brands are changing too; they’re getting physical. But Amazon Books isn’t alone. Google also has its own brand store in London. These moves suggest that online businesses are creating new physical environments in which to drive sales. And with iOS 9’s embrace of ad blockers making the digital world a more hostile place to advertise in – could offline be ready for a renaissance?

Most consumers today realise that some physical objects and experiences have qualities that don’t translate to digital (just ask any vinyl junkie) and are increasingly seeking them out ‘for real’. Evidence of this includes the growing revenues from live events attended by people who want to physically see their favourite act, rather than experience it through their tech, or the success of Secret Cinema and its countless spinoffs. All of this has implications for the advertising industry.

Digital has certainly brought greater speed, cost-savings and impressive trackability. But in the rush to digital, much of traditional media’s strengths seem to have been overlooked. ‘Junk mail’ has been all but killed off – and rightly so. But consider the multi-sensory experience of direct marketing (DM). A well-thought-out piece of mail – something real, relevant and resonant – can still have a lasting impact on its recipient.

Perhaps DM’s greatest strength today is that it can cut through cluttered digital inboxes and capture the recipient’s attention. This power is especially potent in a world of easily-distracted tech users and is something that creative agencies and their clients shouldn’t lose sight of. After all, it’s this tangible experience that a lot of online brands moving into the real world now seek to replicate.

At AML, DM is alive and well as part of our integrated offering – and it continues to show impressive results. Our successful work for Partnership involved sending a branded box of doughnuts to financial advisers. Physically landing on their desks, it brought to life a potentially dry message (about better annuity rates for those with health conditions) in an engaging and memorable way.

For one asset management company we’ve worked with, we combined the best features of digital and DM to present fund selectors with a video mailer promoting a particular bond fund. Using a video screen within printed collateral, we were able to get the presentation in their hands and playing as soon as they opened it. It’s this media mix that combines strengths and overcomes limitations, as typified by digital OOH which balances physical and digital environments while being free from blocking.

Success lies in constantly re-evaluating this balance between physical and digital media, always structuring your approach for maximum impact. And in our case, some fresh doughnuts delivered in time for the morning coffee break beat an array of pixels hands-down.