Love Letters

In a recent conversation with my Mother, she lamented over a comment one of her customers had made to her earlier that day.  She said:

“This customer told me that they no longer teach children to write in cursive at school.  It upset me so…”

My Mother is an artist – specifically, a master calligrapher by trade.  She works in beauty of the physical – combining her rare, heavily cultivated talent with her eye for creating lasting impressions in paper (invitations, for example, where she selects papers, fonts, envelopes, linings, artwork and more).  So you can imagine her deep sadness upon hearing that her craft was something that was becoming more and more rare.  She’s not the only one disturbed by our world’s progress, if you can think of it that way.  Just this morning I heard a segment on NPR talking about pens.  Yes, pens.  And a particular shop called Daly’s in Milwaukee that sells them to the discerning penner – one of the last of it’s kind.

This idea of the physical vs. intangible has been on the minds of many in my circle of late.  Recently a strategist friend in Boston released his 2014 trend report.  In it, one of the trends he highlights is “The Resurgence of Analog.”  Here he’s referring to this in the most literal way possible – records.  But I think this bleeds into other areas.  We’ve seen some fashion houses return to more time-consuming/hand-detailed ways of producing product in the past few years, the ongoing craze for craft cocktails…I have to wonder what’s next?

As it pertains to marketing, I’ve had clients over the past few years that default to digital each & every time.  Every client is different and,  no doubt, digital in its various forms plays a part in almost every campaign’s mix.  But, when the opportunity is there, I think that the physicality of tactics like direct mail can differentiate a brand, cut the clutter.  Think I’m old fashioned?  Stop & think about how many emails you receive from advertisers a day & what you remember – how many of those emails have a lasting impact on you or motivate you to action.  I would wager a small, mighty few.  We are always mindful before recommending email marketing to clients – it’s not for everyone nor is it appropriate given the desired end result.  And sometimes there is a better solution.

One of my favorite direct mail pieces was one that I worked on for Napster while I was handling their national advertising efforts at Modernista!.  The goal was to have users subscribe for a free trial (and succeeded mightily, I might add).  It was simple, but fun, and used the medium well.  A heavy stock envelop with a clear plastic window in the center.  Inside, a card held a black guitar pick with a Napster kitty head, visible through the window.  Below it said, “Free Air Guitar.”  Of course there was more information inside, but the initial impact was what the target audience remembered & obviously responded to.  I thought the creative team was rather clever – using this type of vehicle to drive an online-based business at the time.  Not the largest project I’ve worked on by a long shot, but one I think of from time to time.

In recent years my Mom has seen the number of members in the Calligrapher’s Guild she’s a part of dwindle.  Ironically, however, her customers have held steady.  And I see my peers seeking out her penmanship, her ability to help them set the tone for their special events through a memorable first impression.  Personally, I don’t think there is a substitute for the hand-written note.  When I care, I stamp instead of clicking, “send.”  I hope we find ways to preserve our individuality in ink – or by other physical means – as it suits us in 2014 & beyond while embracing the technology that has allowed us to make it a choice instead of a necessity.