The general momentum of all things digital is to virtualize the real or utilize mobile technology to layer digital media onto the physical analog world. And so part of Postcard on the Run’s unique charm is the way it reverses that polarity and reasserts the simple power of the tangible -- even the ephemeral.
The company’s app and SDK allow users to take a photo from their phone camera and turn it into a postcard. But it is more than that when leveraged as a marketing device. For Universal’s film app promoting "The Lorax," for instance, the technology was combined with simple AR so users could put a virtual Lorax mustache onto themselves or others and send to a friend.
According to Universal SVP of digital marketing Doug Neil, the app offered users a very simple call to action with a unique twist. “The halo effect of sending tens of thousands of branded postcards out via our Lorax mobile app was a marketing activity we were excited to pioneer. There is something special about creating something physical from digital from your own mobile device,” he said in statement.
Postcard on the Run also powered a promotion for a recent Lollapalooza music tour. “If you go to any music show, people are constantly taking pictures,” says Postcard on the Run CEO Josh Brooks. “Now you can send something from the event.” The concept is a basic counterpoint to the disposability of digital media. “If you think about physical goods, we take so many pictures all day long, but we never do anything with them. There has been no time when people are taking more pictures than today. But if you have a picture that is printed, whether on a postcard or on a tchotchke, you will appreciate that more than something in a social stream.”
The creative possibilities are endless, and often tie themselves to ordinary moments when people would pull out their phone camera. For cruise lines, events, hotels, having the ability to augment and make physical an image that one already was planning to take to mark a moment can be leveraged creatively in many ways. It is a kind of native advertising, in that it slips into the flow of daily media behavior, offers to enhance that moment, and gives the brand credit for adding some fun or gifting. “We aren’t trying to create a behavior but just trying to change a behavior that already exists, like using the postcards in a hotel room,” Brooks says.
The company started the model as a simple consumer photo app, but saw the possibilities for brands embedding the technology in their own app efforts. So now POTR has about three dozen partners across photo app, movie studio and resort categories. VC backing has come in as well in what is fast becoming de rigeur for digital startups -- a celebrity. Selena Gomez has invested in the company. In this case, the endorsement is genuine. Gomez had been using POTR’s stand-alone app for a while, and sends postcards to people. It does sound like a tremendous fan-building device for celebs and music groups.
POTR underscores an interesting prospect for marketers in the digital age. Enabling an analog break from the gadget-filled, data-gushing media environment could itself be a marketing opportunity. The idea comes with its own ironies built in, of course. Now that we have had such a central role in building this tower of digital Babel and filling every available space with “messaging,” we can exploit the corresponding need for quiet…by sponsoring it.
On the back end the cards can be printed and distributed very quickly. But one of the choke points in the digital age is the physical address. How many of us have the street address of our contacts on our phones? Brooks and co. have developed a unique technology that can send a text alert to the potential recipient that someone is trying to send them a postcard. They need to reply within 48 hours with their full address, and the sender receives it in the form of a vcard for their contact list.
The POTR model is a way to distribute discounts, promotions and even QR codes that ultimately pull the recipients back into the digital ecosystem. They are incorporating a range of new features and effects for both consumers and brand partners, including scratch-and-sniff cards. “We were doing research and found that the sense of smell is the strongest trigger for memory, and we are in the memory business,” says Brooks.
Perhaps it is the aging crank in me who romanticizes a pre-digital age, but I find that the power of this idea comes from its counterpoint to an age of virtualization. As pieces of our social interaction, reading, viewing, and talking become increasingly eaten by the same set of multipurpose devices that are homogenizing experience into templates that perforce sacrifice uniqueness for efficiency and speed.
In that context something like a well-wrought book, a physical encounter, a postcard, a tangible (perhaps sniffable) experience gains that much more power than it might have had only a decade or two ago. The ubiquity and dominance of the digital leaves an interesting new space to make creative use of simple analog experiences.