For years, tech companies have been striving to make highly sophisticated products that replicate or supplement the real world. But 3D-TVs have officially failed and augmented reality is still struggling to become part of our daily lives; meanwhile lo-fi is having a moment in the form of pixilated graphics and archaic web design. Teens in particular seem to be drawn to the counterculture movement (surprise, surprise).
Teens – and Millennials in general – have accepted their generation’s other moniker, “digital natives.” They live on the Internet and their smartphone is rarely out of arm’s reach. They have grown up with technology at their fingertips, but that doesn’t mean that it takes all the bells and whistles to impress them. In fact, adopting a lo-fi look can help a brand stand out.
Teens can have highly immersive and realistic video games with HD graphics…but it’s Minecraft and Flappy Bird (even though the latter has been removed from active downloads) that have stolen the spotlight and a significant share of teens’ time. The pixilated graphics – and in many ways the modes of play – are a throwback to an era when a game was just a game. Sure, there are times when teens want to submerge themselves in a complex, epic saga, but there are also times when they want a little mindless fun like Flappy Bird, or a more creative quest, like Minecraft. These games give them a much-needed break from the heavier challenges of real life. Losing during a silly game like Flappy Bird isn’t as crushing a blow as failing in Call Of Duty.
The lo-fi trend is creeping into other areas of media, including graphic and web design. It has been spurred on by designers who got into the spirit of Throwback Thursday and started posting screenshots of websites they’d created back in the day. The modern result is sites likethese from up-and-coming bands, using ’90s web tropes such as goofy animated gifs, rainbow text, and busy backgrounds. The sites might seem like an affront to adult eyes, but for teens they break through the clutter (despite their clutter) and reveal the character of the band.
Lo-fi is part style statement, part random humor, and even a little rebellious. Teens will acknowledge that they can’t live without the Internet or smartphones, but going lo-fi is their way of saying they’ll use sophisticated modern technology on their own terms.
The trend serves as a reminder to brands that winning the attention of digital natives doesn’t necessarily mean they need a slick high-tech strategy. In fact, much of the technology that teens gravitate to, such as Tumblr and Instagram, is decidedly simple. One of the challenges of being a youth marketer is that we get caught up looking for the next big thing and forget about the timeless needs. Storylines haven’t changed, play patterns are the same, and the desire to conquer simple tasks remains. Winning with young people hasn’t really changed as much as technology evolves. The challenge for marketers is to use technology effectively to reach teens – and that means playing by their rules.