Reading. It’s a fundamentally solitary pastime that’s becoming increasingly more social given the baked-in functionalities of e-reading devices (Tweet this!).
It’s also – surprise! – an activity on the upswing for a couple of reasons: a proliferation of e-reading devices that are plummeting in price, and consumers’ broad acceptance of reading content on phones and computers (not necessarily on Kindles and Nooks), as a new e-reading study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project reveals.
Let’s look at some of the findings from The Rise of e-Reading, then indulge in a bit of speculation about where all this digital content consumption might be headed.
Pew found that consumers who read on digital devices not only read more stuff (not just books, but magazines and other long-form content), but they also buy significantly more reading material. This cohort is growing in numbers at an astonishing rate.
You know, those campaigns that are so absorbing, so experiential, so deep and rich and mesmerizing that the viewer/audience/consumer is swept up in the experience. Transported, and in some small way, transformed. They’re also compelled to share and pass on campaigns like this. Truly immersive ads are always viral.
Digital was supposed to be more immersive than present reality allows. Arguably, Burger King’s Subservient Chicken was immersive. People spent hours commanding the chicken to do things, and even hacking the chicken to do NSFW things. According to the advertiser, the campaign even sparked a spike in the sales of the chicken sandwich it oh, so subtly promoted.
As digital technology has evolved, you’d think there would be more immersive campaigns, wouldn’t you? We’ve learned and grown, have more tools at our disposal and sophisticated developers who can manipulate them, working in tandem with inspired creatives.
I’m not talking world-class video here. Not to denigrate top-notch video, but even at its best video is engaging, not immersive. I’m making that call because video – even digital video – is so rarely interactive, even when it is beautiful and breathtaking.
What recent campaigns have been genuinely immersive? Not a lot comes to mind. Two are Facebook integrations. First, Intel’s breathtaking Museum of Me, Intel’s visual representation of your social life as a museum installation. Because the rich, sweeping and breathtaking visuals pull data from the viewer’s Facebook profile, some critics decried the initiative as creepy.
The Museum of Me wasn’t as creepy by half as its evil twin, Take This Lollipop. This Facebook integration (now offline, with a page cryptically stating “it has begun”) was the fastest-growing Facebook application ever. But it wasn’t a marketing campaign, but rather a side project by Jason Zada who, according to Mashable, created OfficeMax’s Elf Yourself.
Another fairly recent example of a truly immersive execution was the Google Chrome HTML5 experiment, The Wilderness Downtown, an interactive film built on (among other things) Google Maps. It eventually brings the viewer home. Literally.
What do all these immersive campaigns share in common? The oldest, most hackneyed truest truism in digital marketing: it’s about the user. All these executions are, literally, about the user, who is front and center in the action. The viewer is the star of the show, and firmly in the driver’s seat.
So why aren’t we seeing more of this highly creative and utterly interactive immersive stuff?
In many ways, what technology enables, technology taketh away. At least, it does in this still early stage of digital evolution.
As rapidly as the cool new technologies are being rolled out that enable this stuff, so too are new platforms (especially mobile ones) being introduced every day on which they’re incompatible. Even on PCs, they require updated browsers and installed plug-ins.
Making an app? Is it for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire or Blackberry? Digitally, we still live in an era many of us have experienced before. Bet you remember some of these: 8-track or cassette? Betamax or VHS? Regular DVD or Blu-ray flavor?
The point? To be immersive, a campaign has to be really, really interactive. But it also has to provide an utterly flawless user experience. Otherwise, it’s immersive in all the wrong ways.
It’s hard to conceive how, with a proliferation of new technologies and new platforms, many of which have not yet figured out how to meet in the middle, campaigns can be truly immersive – and reach everyone.
Everything old is new again. Apparently this holds true nowhere more so than in digital channels. When there are major, disruptive shifts in digital, the needle doesn’t just move. It moves straight across to the opposite pole, 180 degrees.
Why does this matter? It’s something digital strategists, marketers, advertisers, media companies and others must take into consideration as they look toward the horizon to plan and strategize. They must realize that in the future things will not only be different than they are now. They could well be the opposite of what they are now.
Following, three examples of the digital 180 degree rule.
Distributed to central to distributed Remember what started the internet revolution? It was the shift from network computing to desktop PC’s, from distributed to central computing. It freed users from dependency on a server – everything they needed was right on the desktop hard drive. The past five or so years have turned that advance on its ear. Computing is distributed again. We live in the cloud and rely on mobile devices as much (often more) than our laptops. As for the PC, it’s becoming something of a relic. The return to distributed computing changes everything about how and where users interact with digital channels.
Walled garden to open internet to walled (well, solidly fenced) garden In the beginning there was Mosaic and the BBS. Not a lot of people were there. The internet began to achieve mainstream popularity when AOL (together with competitors such as Prodigy and CompuServe) inundated consumers with diskettes that, once installed on a PC, promised a graphical online browsing experience, provided you didn’t stray from the parameters of your content provider/ISP. As the “real” internet developed (and broadband proliferated), users ventured beyond these walled gardens into a brave new world. We’re beginning to witness an attempt by some of the major digital players to, if not confine users to a content-rich garden, then to at least make it more compelling for them to stay longer, and stray less often. Spearheading this trend is Facebook, working hard to become a one-stop destination for all the news, media, music, streaming video, communications, photos, games, apps and etc. you’d ever need. Why go anywhere else? This trend may not go a complete 180, but it will be interesting to see how Facebook, and perhaps Google, influence (or hog) traffic as each strives to become a one-stop destination for almost all your internet needs.
Distraction from mainstream media to probable primary media access point. Remember when the web was going to obliterate newspapers, magazines, books, music and pretty much every other form of traditional media? It didn’t (and it won’t). The 180 degree shift we’re in the process of witnessing is the migration of all forms of media consumption to digital channels. Ebooks now outsell hardcover and paperback editions – combined (while ereaders are plummeting in price). Moreover, books are subsidized by advertising on some versions of the Kindle. As consumers cut the cord, TV viewing is migrating to digital, too. New platforms such as GetGlue and Miso make watching TV social, wrapping it up with promotions from retailers and media properties alike. The New York Times has more Twitter followers than print subscribers. Spotify delivers almost all the music in the world – free – if you share what you’re listening to with your Facebook friends. DIgital isn’t eradicating traditional media. Instead, it’s turned distribution, consumption and monetization models upside-down.
In which area will we witness the next digital pole shift? Hypothesize in the comments, please.