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December 17, 2007
Analog Meet Digital, Digital Meet Analog
I love handshakes: the strong, the dainty, the forever “please let go now,” the missed palm-to-palm finger shake and even the clammy. It is the direct connection, the immediacy of the information transferred from hand to hand that I seek. You can find the same energy in the heart-touch after the hand-touch in the Arabic world, the nuanced bow of Asia or the fist pound of the Street. And not to leave out the communication negotiation between networked devices such as modems, also known as the handshake, an apt metaphor for connections. I love secret handshakes even more. Almost as much as Citizen Band radio. They are all part of these networks of communication.

This is about brands and the present moment.

We are all part of this in-between generation that grew up neither strictly digital nor totally analog—this will be true even for the kids being born right now. There are those of us more digitally inclined, those that are not and those that just will never change one way or the other. We are in between extremes right now. The handshake is the perfect action for joining these two sides of our contemporary culture. Analog meet Digital, Digital meet Analog. We need to reach out, across the aisle so to speak, each-one-teach-one style. Not only getting people online as users, getting more Wi-Fi nodes available for public use and sharing “Bit Literacy” but also empowering Users as Active Creators.

I would even venture to say that if we look at our contemporary culture and what is successful for ourselves and for our brands, it is still very much about the personal, the intimate dynamics of communication. The Handshake.

We need, want and desire interaction. Reflect on how we use our networked realities—the Internet and our cell phones. We use them to seek out affinity groups, to meet up and hook up, and share laughs with one another. The goal is not to hide away from each other or become isolated. The goal is to communicate in rich, immersive and sustainable ways.

The “reach out and touch someone” scenario (which I must pay respects to as still a great line from the past life of the former A to the double T brand, now getting its i-shine on and trying its best to be good neighbors this time around) defines this age of new IMs and SMSes. Creating ways to bridge the analog to digital divide—and helping others cross as well—is a huge task. So, hey, glad we met. Now riddle me this. How is it that we have this amazing new technology/medium, the Internet, which has proven its usefulness beyond the most amazing calculator and flight simulator, yet when we design for it, we still default to an old school flat publishing model. We talk page views (huh?) and throw in a some broadcast elements (.tv, anyone?) for good measure.

This way of thinking is like a bad joke—something like having Nascar as the fastest growing sport in America when we are trying to learn a new habit of controlling our fossil fuel addictions. lol. So we have this “internets” thing, this series of tubes, the super highway, that’s like magic in a box, or a magic carpet ride, or a 24/7 mall right inside our houses, and all we can do is grapple with it as if it were a print magazine with back light or a very clever Lite Brite set. Ok, I do love Lite Brite, less than handshakes and CB radios, but props nonetheless. But hey, that’s not the point. We have a multidirectional, rich media network at our fingertips. Time to get beyond the static and two-dimensional, time to get beyond what we know now.

This Web of ours is of course changing and will continue to change; it was designed to be that way: a little bit broken and a lot of chaos. The shift to new best practices will add dimensionality and find new patterns to recognize. We will talk about information spatiality and dynamic code instead of “pre-rolls” and “page views.” As marketers, if you are one, know one, or pay one to work with you. There is tons riding on our shoulders, here. Step up.

The amazing thing is advertising can help make these changes. We can help bring on a new day. Wow. That’s heavy. We finally got what we have always been asking for—advertising that not only communicates a message but also may provide a service for the consumer. As you have already experienced, a large part of the new model is an ad-based support system. Ads on the Internet are like the analog broadcast model but without the linearity of time-based programming. This transitional stage is working okay for the moment, but it is not the future of what will succeed in this new hybrid media space.

Let’s stop just throwing up billboards all over cyberspace and start making relationships and tools and helpful services for the consumer. In return, marketers, you will get your brand recognition and then some. You may even find the newly inspired consumer designing your next product, commercial or business plan. Wild isn’t it?

Where will marketing find its expressions at this moment of shift? Some messengers will be happy to simply continue to find the highest mound from which to shout. Or develop even more annoying ways to be disruptive and pollute our visual environment. (I digress now to give props to São Paulo for stepping up on the out-of control-situation in that Brazilian city. São Paulo has banned billboards—
click here for more information. Gilberto Kassab, the mayor of São Paulo, you are a rebel. I would love to meet you. Ping me.) Others of us will help take the path of putting seemingly disparate elements together to create new relationships and convergences. These aware advertisers will use their leverage to create tools for expression and allow media to be viral, nomadic and connected to effective feedback routines. This could be advertising's greatest challenge and its greatest triumph. Good luck.

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Howard Goldkrand is a new media artist, as well as, the cultural engineer at Modernista!, an ad agency in Boston. As an artist, he has exhibited world wide, creating sculptures in sound. Currently, he is working in his studio on “monuments to the 20th century” cast in glass. Howard also is the co-founder of Cultural Alchemy, the creators of SoundLab, a multimedia platform that has been presenting work for the last 12 years in NYC and around the world.
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