Posters, cup cakes and the Internet
Every time a new mass media is born, we expect an old medium to die. Yet the poster, pioneered in 1835, is still with us. Far from being killed by the internet, the poster is being reinvented by it.
In March, Unilever staged a four-week trial in Reading involving out-of-home advertising and near field communication (NFC). Any smartphone user who came close to a JC Deaux six-sheet poster could download exclusive offers from one of 13 brands owned by Unilever or such partners. While customers personally interact with the brand, the brand owners acquire a rich seam of information to infuse their market research.
Richard Brooke, Unilever’s senior communications buying manager, told ‘Marketing Week’: “Posters reach a great many people and with mobile technology in just about everybody’s hands, out-of-home advertising can be far more interactive for so many more people.”
Peter Thomas, head of the Liverpool agency Uniform, says the prototype Listening Post poster it premiered at the Texas music festival South by Southwest is one answer to the problem of “infobesity”. When a thumbnail image is pressed, the Listening Post poster plays a clip of music using printed circuits made with conductive ink. Fans can even use the posters to book tickets. “People are saturated with information. We’re trying to recapture some of the tactile experience you got with vinyl records.”
A renewed passion for tactile experience is one unforeseen consequence of the digital revolution. The mysterious boom in cupcakes has been traced back by social commentators to New York in 2001 where the heroes of the dotcom boom were hungry, the theory goes, for the cupcake’s nostalgic, tangible thrill. Cameo appearances on Sex And The City and the 2004 launch of a cupcake blog by Rachel Kramer Bussel did the rest.
The business of taking something old and making it feel new is mysterious. But Thomas believes that as interactive paper and packaging become cheaper - and conductive inks become easy to use on conventional printers - a lot of media could become more accessible offline, returning to the physical world.
William Grobel, a consultant in Deloitte’s marketing effectiveness group, has suggested we aren’t too far from the world of ‘Minority Report’ where characters passing through a shopping centre are sent targeted messages through social media offering them a personalised discount if they buy a certain item. Michael Walker, head of commercial development at Heathrow Express, has even suggested we are entering an age where “billboards target consumers on a one-to-one basis”.