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How print became the definition of luxury in the digital age
Insight
05 . 11 . 19

See, touch, feel, connect…

Words by: Print Power
We run the gamut of physical and psychological emotions when we spend time with a book. And that’s why ad agencies are using this emotive page turner format in the campaign mix – to make a profound sensory impression…
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One of the most creatively awarded pieces of advertising design 2019 came in the humble book format - from the Gun Violence History Book that’s pierced with a bullet to show the trail of destruction left by firearms, to The Book of Dirt whose story comes to life when smeared with dirt to illustrate the magic of play. The use of this book format in a world where consumers are bombarded with a stream of constantly updated content is a bold statement from brands.  It’s a brave move that shuns the fast-paced, data-driven world of digital ‘likes’ for a more tactile, disruptive and ultimately powerful experience. As well as being a physical signal of great relevance, books offer the creative space to illustrate brand purpose. And it’s this physicality that commands attention and delivers a more profound message to the consumer.

FCB Chicago’s hard-hitting Gun Violence History Book - designed as a learning tool on behalf of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence - won Gold at both the Cannes Lions and at New York’s Clio Awards. A simple analogue format it might have been, but it hid a powerful message within. Each page is filled with news reports of gun deaths spanning 228 years of gun violence. And its pages have been punctured clean through by a bullet that comes to a disarming stop at the last page, with the message: ‘This bullet stopped, but history continues to be written. Stop history from repeating itself.’ Its message was morbid but profound. And it was a powerful example of how print can really deliver in the marketing mix.

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Let’s get physical

But that’s the beauty of print. Its versatility. Its malleability. And its physicality. Something that Tim Milne knows all about. His creative print and packaging agency Artomatic ‘helps companies seduce their customers with exquisite physical objects’. And rather than seeing analogue solutions as competing with online, his ongoing mission is to ‘pioneer an enlightened role for print and physical communications in the digital age.’ Indeed, Artomatic’s portfolio has raised physical interaction to an art form. Like their Massive Attack Singles 90-98 (designed by Tom Hingston) - a multi-CD release in a rigid box, printed entirely in heat-sensitive ink that changed colour when handled, ‘providing an intimate level of interaction’.

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Logic vs emotion

Milne believes print media has something digital doesn’t: ‘Essentially, digital is an inert medium, not an emotional one. So, while it’s very good at disseminating information, logic, reason and intellect, it’s not good at transmitting feelings. Computers that run these media are built on binary logic that appeals to our conscious left-brain-dominated view of the world. While FMRI scanners are discovering that both emotions and physical sensations are processed in the same parts of the brain, which means that when we touch something, we feel something – we don’t have to think about how we feel about something physical; we just feel it.

So, if we take this principal, printing is a physical, emotional and subconscious medium, while digital is a virtual, intellectual, conscious medium. It’s easier to see how we have a symbiotic partnership that can address both our need for intellectual understanding and emotional meaning. Humans are motivated by emotions, not intellect. And if you want to speak directly to their feelings, physical sensations are the most direct and powerful way to do it.’

‘Humans are motivated by emotions, not intellect. And if you want to speak directly to their feelings, physical sensations are the most direct and powerful way to do it.’
Tim Milne
Founder, ARTOMATIC

Packing a punch

Another media industry expert championing print is Patrick Collister. He publishes Directory online and in quarterly print format, showcasing innovative ideas in advertising from around the world. ‘Clever marketing people tell me that I should abandon print and concentrate on an online offering only. But I watch creative people open the magazine – always in the middle. Then they flick through the pages, waiting, hoping for that moment of serendipity when an idea leaps into the mind, stimulated by something they have just seen. Directory is a source of inspiration as well as information. It costs a lot to produce, so it costs a lot to subscribe. But I know it has led to many pieces of creative thinking.’

It’s this emotional provocation that means The Gun Violence History Book strikes a chord with Collister. It showcases a deadly and tragic history of shootings. And it urges students and voters reading it to stop history repeating itself by educating future generations.

Milne agrees that The Gun Violence History Book is hard-hitting: ‘It told a powerful story because it held within its pages the shattering violence a bullet inflicts. In doing so, the book itself becomes a proxy of the destruction wreaked on a human body by the entry of the bullet. It was produced in some quantity. So, we can assume the intended audience got to experience its physical and emotional power for themselves.’

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Cleaning up

Another such advertising campaign book designed for wide commercial use, is The Book of Dirt by Ogilvy South Africa for Omo. The laundry detergent brand created a dirt-reactive children’s book, encouraging kids to get outside, and get grubby. It uses an ink formula that invisibly fills the blank book with beautiful illustrations by artist Karabo Poppy to create The Tale of Spots and Stripes. Once dirty hands smear soil across its pages, the images and the story come to life. In response to research that said kids were spending too much time glued to a computer screen, it was designed to exercise a child’s key tactile and fine motor skills. The book’s a great physical demonstration of why dirt is good, and why it’s good for kids to get outside and play. And its creative charm lies in its seemingly magical transformation.

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And while this book is aimed at younger kids, it resonates in this age of digital detox. ‘Gen Z spends nearly four and a half hours a day glued to their mobile phones,’ says Collister. ‘But while it’s their primary source of content, it’s not their only source. A change is as good as a rest, as they say. Zoella, who has 4.8 million subscribers to her YouTube channel, published a novel which was the fastest-selling book in UK publishing history. So, many of her followers would have been influenced to do the same – pick up a book. There is also a feeling that in this era of fake news, print is somehow more reliable, more authentic.’

‘There is also a feeling that in this era of fake news, print is somehow more reliable, more authentic.’
Patrick Collister
Editor, Directory magazine

My precious

Of course, luxury brands long ago recognised the value of print advertising and of books as being authentic, collectible and covetable. ‘Some print formats are enjoying more of a renaissance than others,’ says Milne. ‘And while much of this seems to hinge around perceptions of luxury – that printed books are themselves are a luxury (underpinned by the human desire to own something), or that luxury brands articulate their values through luxurious print finishes - there is also some kind of anti-digital undercurrent.

He believes it’s this need to own something tangible that’s driving a return to analogue generally. And to valuing the book format. ‘It’s interesting to note the rise in printed books vs e-book sales and the rise (albeit on a smaller scale) of vinyl records as the music world switches to streaming. Both books and records form part of people’s experience identity. They are key touchstones to people’s lives and their self-perceptions. Ownership of these artefacts is key to the human experience and how we connect with the world – hence we call them our belongings. That is entirely distinct from the convenience of just listening or reading.’

Speed dating

It’s no longer just luxury brands who are recognising the exclusivity of offering customers and readers a limited-edition book. PUMA and BETC/Havas combined a launch of their PUMA Hybrid NX shoe with a book to celebrate the 10thanniversary of ambassador Usain Bolt’s record-breaking sprint. The 9’58 Biography documents everything in his life by date - from birth, to training, to medals, to records. And if the reader turns it on its side, it becomes an animated flip book that reproduces his sprint in 224 frames. It was created as a gift to Bolt. But 70 other athletes and influencers at the event received a copy – securing its airing and sharing on social networks.

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As exclusive and glossy as this is, Milne regards this as a ‘fairly well-worn idea of getting movement into a book through animation’ as well as again being ‘another film prop for social media propagation’. And he thinks we should be pushing past the idea of print as a book or one-dimensional piece of advertising, to seeing it as something with a wealth of textural, spatial and sensory possibilities.

‘If we are to think about this further, then we have to think beyond books, which are a very specific, but ultimately quite limiting print format. Perhaps we shouldn’t talk about printing at all – maybe we should talk about physical communications. Print has enjoyed 500 years of constant evolution and diversity into an impressive array of processes and techniques. Any combination of size, shape, materials, process and format would mean this list of possibilities is not only endless, but possibly significantly under-explored.’

‘Print has enjoyed 500 years of constant evolution and diversity into an impressive array of processes and techniques. Any combination of size, shape, materials, process and format would mean this list of possibilities is not only endless, but possibly significantly under-explored.’
Tim Milne
Founder, ARTOMATIC

Plus, while the book had the eyes of one VIP and 70 cherry-picked people on it, how do you measure the value of its online video views? ‘There is a growing view that digital advertising is a waste of money, despite its immediate economy,’ he explains. Perhaps the 1970s adage “I know half my advertising works, I just don’t know which half” has been replaced with “I know a small fraction of my digital advertising works, but it’s so cheap, I don’t care”. Heaven knows digital isn’t short of data and metrics, but almost all of it is self-serving. A million YouTube views proves nothing more than one million people have seen this video, never mind whether it made an impact.’

Blade stunner

One book that has explored how you can manipulate the three-dimensional and textural qualities of print is The Book That Grew by Rothko for Allied Irish Bank and Teagasc – Ireland’s agricultural department. A book that promotes efficiency and sustainability in farming through rotation in grass grazing, it’s made entirely from grass roots and natural products. Featuring 10 lessons and 10 pieces of practical advice designed to maximise profitability for Irish farmers’ plots of grassland without compromising on sustainability, the words and messages took shape as the roots grew over two months. The book then toured agricultural events.

‘When you watch a book grow grass – literally – it is an experience that creates amazement as well as pleasure. And may well be something you watch develop over time,’ says Collister. ‘Similarly, Zapping Madrid won a Gold at Cannes in 2003 for an ad that grew grass. But their idea was to get media buyers to buy advertising in Jungle Book 2, so they sent them a book that grew.’

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Print as provocateur

The Book That Grew highlights paper as an incredible tapestry on which to weave something unique. And through which you can inspire thought, provoke discussion and inspire emotion. But how can we push print’s boundaries so it becomes a worthy and complimentary addition to a campaign mix?

‘If we are serious about printing’s future in the digital world, it needs a thorough re-imagining as THE emotional medium, the necessary (obligatory) compliment to digital information distribution.’
Tim Milne
Founder, ARTOMATIC

‘If we are serious about printing’s future in the digital world,’ says Milne, ‘it needs a thorough re-imagining as THE emotional medium, the necessary (obligatory) compliment to digital information distribution. We need to focus on emotion as a primary objective and create from there. To make this work, we would need new distribution channels, since getting stuff in people’s hands is imperative to their feeling something (a film on Facebook won’t cut it.) And most importantly, we need new research and metrics that actually demonstrate the connection and impact that physical sensation has on emotion and behaviour.’