Why, in a digital era, more people are embracing analog objects?
Our colleagues in JWT conducted a survey to uncover the appealing attributes of physical items that set them apart from digital products. 

It seems obvious that nostalgia is a key driver, yet the generational divide might not play out as you would think. You won’t be surprised that Millennials and Gen-Xers are more enthusiastic about digital music, photos and books. And they aren’t big on landline phones. What they liked about digital was mostly its convenience — easier to shop for, easier to store.

But you might be surprised to discover that younger groups — Millennials in particular — expressed a liking for physical items — records, cards and letters. Among other things, we can hold and smell physical goods, they can be keepsakes or collectibles, they can be proudly displayed or nicely wrapped. When we asked people if they agreed with the idea that a card or a letter sent through the mail makes them feel more connected to someone than email or text messages, nearly 8 in 10 said yes — and the difference between age cohorts was negligible. Even more surprisingly, Millennials were actually more enthusiastic about printed books and magazines than older groups. 

Millennials were also far more likely than older groups to regard now-obsolete products as collectibles. The youngest generation surveyed is the most likely to appreciate tactile qualities, as three quarters of Millennials share an appreciation for the longevity and endurance of physical objects. The older you are, it seems, the more likely you are to regard old record players and the like as junk to be thrown away. 

Certain objects have memories. In 20 years, I want a token that I enjoyed this album in 2012. I’d hate to have to tell my son, ‘Here’s my hard drive.

Scott Lindenbaum, the 30-year-old cofounder of Spun 

What does it all mean? Predictions of an all-digital future are somewhere between premature and naive. What the survey found was that people value digital for its functionality — but they value physical objects as well, for reasons that have little to do with practical considerations.

From a marketing standpoint, this means that purveyors of digital offerings and physical goods alike need to hone their thinking. Here are six ways marketers can address people's wants and expectations: 

  1. Play up everything that's unique about physical goods — their tactile qualities, their imperfections, their ability to endure over time, or create limited editions that serve as artefacts and keepsakes. 
  2. Avoid the emotional void in digital. Since digital offerings typically lack the emotional appeal of actual stuff, focus on ways to make them more seem warmer and more personable. 
  3. Pair physical objects with digital goods to increase their perceived value. This not only satisfies the need for tangibility; it also increases the perception of value.
  4. Revive meaningful traditions that are fading with the move to digital. 
  5. Make it easy for people to repurpose old goods. The rise of the hacker ethic and remix culture is now being felt in the physical world. 
  6. Bridge the digital and the physical. There's a lot to be said for enabling people to use technology to create real-world objects.

For the ‘Embracing Analogue’ report, JWTIntelligence partnered with Frank Rose, author of ‘The Art of Immersion’ and correspondent for Wired. The poll was conducted in the UK and US using a statistically representative sample of 1,200 adults (18+) using SONAR™, JWT’s proprietary online tool.

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