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February 21, 2013
Can Analog Thinking Shake Up Our Digital World?
Old methods of thinking might help our new marketing plans.
I recently saw a great documentary called “Sound City,” about a revered LA recording studio that, until its demise, kept a massive analog mixing board and served as the site of many great seminal rock albums. Ironically, before seeing the movie I spent the afternoon recording voiceovers in a Mac-based studio someone built in a 500 square-foot loft apartment.
So is there room for analog thinking and production in an increasingly digital world? Could advertising agencies benefit from using old-school methods to produce cutting-edge ideas?

I’m not talking about making traditional advertising, like print ads or radio. I’m talking about using old methods of thinking and making, when technology is available to bypass that process.
One of the most attention-getting commercials in this year’s Super Bowl was a RAM truck ad, which featured a voiceover from a speech that radio commentator Paul Harvey gave in 1978. The power of the copy came primarily because its construction didn’t happen the way ads are written now: Harvey had to write that speech in longhand on or type it out on a typewriter, which would presumably include numerous drafts and rewrites. Then he had to make sure the cadence and delivery of the speech would capture the attention of a live audience. If today’s copywriters took that approach to their “anthem” brand TV spots, could they be equally as powerful?
Everyone has their own creative work habits. I don’t write copy in a notebook. I don’t write this column in longhand. I don’t religiously tote around a Moleskin journal. I do use some college-ruled spiral notebooks to take meeting notes. But unless I type those notes up later, I'll rarely refer back to those notebooks and they go in the trash when they’re filled. My thought process, and my job, is completely affected by the way I work — in Microsoft Word, primarily. It’s a hard habit to break.
Even though our world is so digitally focused, I’m not surprised when I hear advertising and design teachers all the time implore their students to do logos and layouts by hand first. Interestingly, copywriting teachers don’t preach the virtues of writing copy by hand with the same emphasis. In the time crunch we’re all in, though, it’s easier to just jump on a computer and type or mess with layouts 100 ways until the pieces come together.
We take our digitally-enabled shortcuts everywhere we can. Think about elements like stock photography, voiceover listings, or any element that involves a search query: certain results always rise to the top, and depending on our patience (or lack thereof), we may never see the best options for us, just the most convenient.
Editing and tweaking ideas also get affected by our digital thought process. I worked at agency that conducted brainstorming sessions where the goal was to fill a “BFPOP” (Big Freakin’ Piece of Paper) on the wall. But who held the power over which ideas were pursued? The person transcribing/typing that paper’s contents in an email conference report.
Let’s face it: We simply don’t do business in analog anymore. Client decisions get made remotely, and often on the basis of a PDF comp in a hastily-made PowerPoint deck or compressed QuickTime video.
What would happen if the staff of an entire agency couldn’t use a computer, tablet, or phone for 24 hours? And just had to think out loud, write in longhead, design on paper? Perhaps we’d be more thorough, and the ideas might be more fully formed, before we rush to get ‘em done. Elements of copy and design would be more carefully chosen. It might be wonderful. Tell you what: You try it out and tell me how it works.
Mostly, analog is a curiosity. In Seattle where I live, there’s a renewed interest in vinyl records, letterpress printing, and handmade this-and-that. Of course, try making a living off of any of those. It rarely happens.
In “Sound City,” some of the musicians say there’s a certain organic quality to analog recordings, even with imperfections, which improve the final product. The technology, as sophisticated as it is, can be a wonderful tool, but the music is something we have to feel. And that people make the work special.
That might be true for marketing and advertising as well. Or perhaps a hybrid method might be best. As for me, the key problem hasn’t been solved: Many of my ideas come when I’m taking a shower. So someone please, invent an iShower waterproof electronic whiteboard.
That’d be the best of both the digital and analog worlds.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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