"Many people have no access to the internet or don't use it at all. And yet, it is expanding in another direction. It has started moving offline." -- Hito Steyerl in "Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?"
In 2016, the internet came to life. This was great for culture makers, but even greater for marketers and businesses. The online/offline divide became meaningless; instead, what mattered was a blending of the two. The behaviors we see online, and understand as existing in the virtual world, surfaced into our in-real-life lives. Trolling became real in politics, memes showed up in sports and we searched for viral clips in real-time.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, I watched Usain Bolt run 100 meters, strides ahead of the competition, smile while running -- a smile that became a meme within seconds.
We can no longer think in terms of online or offline zones. We have reached a symbiosis between the two states. Because we're way more familiar with an internet that shapes and delivers physical experiences, our virtual world increasingly shows up in our real-life experiences.
While marketers view online as a place where commerce and engagement happen, 2016 gave a glimpse of a richer online opportunity. We're motivated by the results -- click-through rates, time spent online, engagement metrics -- but these values became questionable. Were they real? Did they matter? What do these metrics ultimately mean for the brands we serve? How much can we affect the relationships with the brands offline via online campaigns? And is bigger actually better when it comes to audiences?
All these questions surfaced amid fake news, fake metrics and a creeping sense of online fatigue. Digital is about scale, which doesn't always translate into powerful experiences. And social platforms are engineered to keep people on those platforms, not give audiences a multidimensional brand experience. Fusing online with offline to make a seamless reality is not about scale, it's a way for brands to create a richer experience.
2017 is shaping up as the year brands will focus on digital as part of a multidimensional experience. Smart brands will use the internet to deliver a great offline time, or augment their product, or make sure that the brand is in their everyday life -- rather than just encouraging people to share, brands will go for a fuller resonance.
Nike and Adidas ended 2016 with two messages that struck me as challenging the premise of online behavior, and promising to go beyond the online/offline binary. Nike's "Are we running today?," posted on YouTube on December 10, used social platforms to question social behavior. Wieden's ads use the things that distract us online as the foil that prevents us from living. What's interesting is that these online spots critique online behaviors. Inherent in the communications strategy is that online channels can be positive, but that online behaviors take us away from where we need to be. Basically, the ads urge viewers to not be wedded to an online-only life. They say, There's a real world to experience out there.
Adidas' Glitch goes a step further, offering a uniquely online process to influence offline behaviors. It's advertising a business model, and it provides a sales mechanism that fuses the two. Launched last November in London, the Glitch soccer cleat is an invite-only app that allows soccer players to customize their cleats. The invite-only approach allows Adidas to track hardcore customers. In an era where measurements can't be trusted, it makes sense to focus on tactics that excite the people you really want -- tactics that are truly additive to the way they experience your products.
In the drinks market, Pernod Ricard illustrates another direction this online/offline this fusion could take. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, the company unveiled a connected cocktail maker called Opn. The machine holds six containers, each of them filled with a different drink from Pernod's portfolio, and a range of online digital methods to interact with the device. You can get expert dinner party cocktail advice from Opn's dedicated website, use its app to see how full the cartridges are and base cocktail selections on the drinks you have. Pernod Ricard are developing a delivery service to allow Opn users to get cartridges delivered within one hour.
I suspect we'll see more of this type of activity from other brands in 2017, engaging customers through blending online and offline. Perhaps there's going to be a little less mindless online grazing, and a lot more effort to make the internet where real-life experiences are formed.