You’d love my email if it was a letter

Ben Gibbs
By Ben Gibbs | 14 July 2023
Ben Gibbs.

Hearts & Science strategy director Ben Gibbs

Physical things, tangible things, hold a special place in our hearts. Have they always? No idea. But it seems as we slowly, then very quickly, digitised everything, that hold has only increased it’s grip. Now the digital genie is well out of the bottle & there is so much to like. It’s brought efficiencies, connections, content and more to our lives and livelihoods, and yet:

We have access to 10,000s of photos, but cherish the few that are printed.

We can listen to any song ever recorded for $11.99 per month, but it’s a $40 vinyl that earns our love.

Though phones house all our communications, we remember a handwritten note.

We’re turning away from dating apps, instead choosing to ‘try’ and meet people IRL.

We’d rather pitch in person, instead of using Teams.

Printed books outsell e-Books.

We connect a joy, a sadness, a premium, a memory and a value to the things we touch & the things we craft. This value isn’t limited to our personal belongings either. As an industry, we do the same; celebrating moments with brands that transform digital norms into tangible somethings.

In 2015, Apple celebrated their customers’ photography with a ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ campaign. When more than 1.8 billion digital photos were digitally uploaded every single day, Apple printed the digital photographs of 162 iPhone 6 users on 10,000 billboards in 75 cities. That campaign won the Cannes Lions Grand Prix.

At least 23 separate brands have partnered with Barbie (the movie), releasing products fans could purchase in the lead up to release. Rollerblades, jackets, donuts, and an opportunity to stay at a life-sized Barbie Dreamhouse in Malibu, booked through Airbnb. The many videos created around the desire to win a two-night stay at #barbiedreamhouse have 421 million TikTok views and counting.

The last letterpress newspaper in Australia, The Don Dorrigo Gazette, closed in early July. The Heidelberg printing press survived world wars, financial collapses, pandemics, and millions of impressions of the unchanged-since-1910-front-page-press. The press will be housed in the Penrith Printing Museum in Sydney, and hundreds of newspaper subscriptions, subscriptions lasting more than 40 years, will be cancelled.

So, holding my terrible pen in my beautiful museum of an office, here lies the contradiction. Waxing lyrical about how we value physical, tangible things, arguing we admire brands that have done the same (personally and professionally), but doing so with a digital article on a digital tool, hopefully to be read by someone on a digital screen during a moment between producing digital work, which will likely be shared digitally.

We love that personal photograph and covet the Malibu Dreamhouse, but what about all the presentations, emails, plans, creative, strategies and articles we produce - how often does our work get instilled with the lovely qualities we give the physical and tangible?

Would an insight be better understood if the tension could be held?

Would creative be adopted if presented at billboard scale?

Would an article about the value of physical things be more impactful printed on paper?

Physical things, tangible things, hold a special place in our hearts. We connect a joy, a sadness, a premium, a memory and a value to the things we touch and the things we craft. We connect them to personal objects and the experiences a brand creates for their customers. We have an opportunity to imbue this value into the work we produce too.

I think you’d love my email if it was a letter.

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