In Want of Things We Can Touch

Levi’s_We are all workers
One of my favorite ad campaigns in the wild right now is Levi’s “We Are All Workers” from Wieden and Kennedy.

Each piece consists of a beautiful black and white homage to the workingman, complimented by powerful, Karl-Marx-approved slogans like: “Everyone’s work is equally important” and  “We are all workers.”

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My favorite is “Made Strong for the New Work.”  Which features a series of rugged individuals who, I presume, need some seriously sturdy pants to tackle some of the hard-typing, click-driving “new work” of today’s information economy.  John Henry would be proud.

strong for the new work

It’s pretty amazing to see a brand parading a nation of workers while politicos fear monger about an impending socialist takeover – but I think Levi’s is on to something here.  And they’re hardly alone.  Jeep is out with a similar campaign touting that “The Things We Make, Make Us.”

This has always been a nation of builders, craftsmen… men and women for whom straight stitches and clean welds are matters of personal pride… As a people, we do well when we make when we make good things and not so well when we don’t. – The Jeep Cherokee Manifesto

Price Check on a Hammer and Sickle?

Saks Fifth Avenue’s ironic constructivism aside, I don’t think any of this represents a desire for a more socialist society.  American’s are pretty unequivocal about the capitalist way of life.

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In Soviet Russia, ROFLCOPTER laughs at you.

What we’re seeing is a deep ambivalence towards a struggling economy that’s built, in large part, on abstract, intangible goods like financial products, e-commerce, and service-based products.  A daily office grind that has shifted from pushing paper to pushing pixels, a transition which certainly saves trees, but that comes at the expense of the primal satisfaction and tangible accomplishment one gets from clearing a towering inbox of TPS reports.

Levi’s and Jeep are merely capturing a sentiment that mourns a simpler, more concrete way of life.

Other car manufacturers, including Mercedes and Subaru, have launched similar ads reminding consumers of the special role cars still hold as one of the few durable goods in a disposable marketplace (and implicitly decrying a use-and-discard mentality.)

To Talk is Human, to Tweet is Machine…

Shifting the conversation from things to relationships, last year’s Dentyne ads and Diesel’s recent “FacePark” initiative are riding the same wave, hoping to restore a sense of intimacy and tangibility to human interaction many feel that digital communication has stolen from their lives.  These brands lead an uprising that wants to reclaim words like “friend,” “poke,” and “chat.”

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Recently, an ad agency launched a campaign under the same rationale, encouraging people to take time out from cell phone use.   Though their decision to subvert the Jewish Day of Atonement shows a degree of cultural insensitivity, their larger point, suspecting that our technology somehow dehumanizes us, clearly resonates.

Digital No More?

Does this mean that consumers are rejecting digital technology for a more analog way of life?  Absolutely not.  The United States broadband penetration rate grew to to 95% this year, smartphone adoption rates are booming, and PC sales are set to grow 20% in 2010.  Meanwhile, the net continues to find itself integrated into more and more devices, from automobile dashboards to smart appliances.  iPad and mobile apps are helping us discover practical uses for technology we wouldn’t have dreamed of a year or two ago.

Consumers have embraced digital and everything that comes with it.  What marketers need to be cognizant of is managing our unease around such rapid change. Brands need to look at ways to use technology in humanizing ways.  Consumers embrace tools that help them connect with the things they care about.  They’re more than willing to adopt things that help them connect, create, do, and share with people in the real world.

Consumers desperately want technology to facilitate their humanity, not subvert it. Their future ideal isn’t a Jetsons-verse dominated by technology, but instead, one dominated by people and relationships.