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December 14, 2020

by Grace Farag, Senior Copywriter, RAPP San Fransisco 

Looking to the Past Can Inspire the Future

Older generations aren’t the only ones pining for the slower, simpler days of yore.

The past few years have seen a surge in interest among Millennials, Xennials, and even Gen Zers for all things analog — whether it’s taking film photos, writing with fountain pens, collecting analog watches, buying and listening to vinyl records, or decorating with vintage typewriters.

But why are these trends happening? And what do they mean for marketers? To answer those questions, let’s start by looking at the big picture of life in today’s digital world.

The Downside of Digital Technology

For Millennials and Xennials, who straddle the transition period between the analog and digital eras, the thrill of novelty that came along with the World Wide Web and the rise of social media has given way to fatigue. Thanks to digital technology, we are more connected with one another than at any time in history, yet people also feel lonelier and more isolated than ever.

Even digital natives like Gen Z seem to be worn out by digital life. Just look at the fact that their generation struggles the most with mental health issues like depression and high suicide rates.

In fact, according to a 2018 report from the APA, nearly half of Gen Zers say that “social media makes them feel judged (45 percent), and nearly two in five (38 percent) report feeling bad about themselves as a result of social media use.” Consider also that Gen Z grew up post-9/11 — that is, they were born into a period marked by war, economic recession and uncertainty, and unpredictable violence such as school shootings.

The trend toward embracing analog again is, broadly speaking, a trend that speaks to our longing for a less complicated time — one when we weren’t so overstimulated, hyperconnected, distracted, and beset by the anxiety of so many uncertainties. Those who have actual memories of that time want to return to it. Those who don’t have those memories likely long for something different from what they’ve always known.

How Analog Speaks to Younger Generations

Analog technologies offer a respite from the stresses of digital life by tapping effectively into five key emotional drivers.

Individualism. We all want to stand out from the crowd and feel like we’re in on something that other people aren’t. Using analog taps into that desire. While everyone else is taking digital photos on smartphones, for example, analog lovers reach for a 35mm rangefinder loaded with black-and-white film. While everyone else is downloading music or streaming on Spotify, nostalgic audiophiles dig through the record bins at local thrift stores.

A sense of belonging. This sounds like a contradiction to individualism, but the fact is, we love expressing our individuality in front of an audience (hello, social media). We also want to belong to a tribe, and sharing our passions is a way of helping us find and connect with other people who just get it. Because if you know, you know.

The desire for stability. In these fast-moving times, we feel comforted and soothed by the knowledge that some things don’t change — or at least, they don’t change much. When you touch the keys of a typewriter or drop a record needle into the vinyl groove, you feel a connection to the past. There is a story. There is continuity. There is that sense of stability.

Nostalgia. Millennials and Xennials can still remember using analog technology (or at least watching their parents do so). For these generations, the trend is all about the nostalgia factor — a way of feeling like a kid again. It’s fun. It inspires joy.

Novelty. For Gen Z, analog is a novelty trend. Trying out a new thing — even when it’s retro — can be just as much of a powerful motivator as reveling in a nostalgic daydream of bygone times.

Why Marketers Should Care

Understanding why analog activities are popular can create innovative opportunities for businesses and brands. Sooner or later, everything old is new again.

As just one example, take a look at Amazon’s “Joy Delivered” holiday Wish Book for 2020. While a PDF is available online, this piece was printed and mailed out just like the old holiday catalogs of the 20th century. The Wish Book not only advertises products for sale, but it also includes fun activities for kids to do — great incentive for parents to keep it around versus just leafing through it and throwing it away.

The analog trend is happening at the place where the powerful motivators of nostalgia and novelty meet. As 21st-century marketers, we’re trying to reach demographics that include generations on both sides of the digital revolution. Obviously, we can’t actually go back in time.

Digital life is here to stay. But I believe younger generations will respond well to marketing that engages them a little more, dare I say, IRL. And maybe as we look closer at these analog trends and think about what they really mean, we can be inspired to come up with more creative ways to reach our customers, now and in the future. That never goes out of style.

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