Have you noticed the number of ads for print versions of everything from personal photos to packaging? Whether this is due to the printing industry’s efforts to promote the value of print or a natural shift in product demand as consumers begin to crave interaction with real physical products, the result is the same. Print is cool again.
One French toilet paper manufacturer was at the forefront of this shift several years ago. Its commercial remains one of my all-time favorites.
The commercial is called “Emma.” One hard-working mom, Emma, is busy doing homework with her child, organizing the home schedule with Post-It notes on the fridge, and printing documents in her home office. Meanwhile, her husband follows her around the house, shaking his head in disapproval, showing her how the same things can be done on the iPad. As her husband shakes his head over and over, Emma gets more and more annoyed. At the end of the commercial, her husband is sitting in the bathroom, reaching for what he finds to be an empty toilet paper roll. “Emma!” he cries, to which he finds an iPad with a picture of a toilet paper roll on the screen slid under the door.
The commercial is funny, but it makes a fundamental point. There are some things that digital cannot replace.
We see a similar lesson in a commercial now airing from the Paper and Packaging Board. In the ad, titled “Letters to Dad,” shows a child of a military serviceman writing letters in crayon, then turning them into paper airplanes and “air mailing” them over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. On the other side of the fence, the neighbor collects the letters in a cardboard box and mails them to the father. When the father sends his letters back (also in a cardboard box), the neighbor takes the letters, turns them into airplanes, and tosses them back over the fence to the delighted son.
The point here is that paper is about more than physical protection. There is something about its physical nature that impacts us at a deep emotional level. It’s something we can see, touch, and connect with deeply. This is not a connection we can get with digital media. This is what we see in the data, as well—paper impacts us at the emotional (and neurological) level in a way that is not replicable in the digital world.
Commercials promoting the benefits of paper-based products have been around for a while, but we are starting to see them more frequently. In fact, we might even say that we are starting to see a groundswell, including commercial airing in the national spotlight.
Consider the number of ads we are seeing for services such as Touchnote, which allows consumers to order postcards directly from their phones. There are many of these apps, including Ink Cards, Postagram, and Snapshot Postcard, but Touchnote has made a big advertising push lately.
In advance to Christmas, we are also hearing more about personalized books from companies like Put Me in the Story, which allows parents to “make their child the star” in personalized books for kids. It’s not a new application, of course, but the company has certainly been in a media blitz.
Although not print or packaging, 3D printing taps into this, as well. Companies like Doolydoo allow parents to turn their children’s drawings into 3D models. There has been an explosion of DIY apps like Sketchtalk and Doodle3D Transform for doing this at home with your own 3D printer. Along similar lines, we recently saw a “maker” type application on Shark Tank, in which the company, Digiwrap, allows customers to design their own giftwrap. Products will never be giftwrapped digitally, of course, but it’s still the same concept. Take your creative idea and make it tangible.
With so much of our lives happening in a virtual world, consumers (us included) are craving tangibility. We want something we can reach out and touch. Even the much-lauded e-book is on the decline as physical books are making a resurgence. According to the Association of American Publishers, sales of e-books declined 18.7% over the first nine months of 2016, while paperback sales were up 7.5% over the same period. Hardback sales increased 4.1%.
Does this mean that sales of all things print are poised for meteoric rise? No, but this shift at the consumer level is good news for the printing industry. It also supports the larger industry discussion being had with marketers and designers about digital channels not being simple direct replacements for print channels at a lower cost.
So keep the discussion going. Talk to your clients about this shift in the consumer culture. Tie their marketing strategies into this tidal shift from virtual to tangible. Help them understand that, while the value of print is enduring, this may be a perfect time to invest more deeply than ever.