Is The Next New Digital Thing Something Physical?

Posted by

Virtual goods are one thing. Brands are still stuck on the physical.

My mind went wandering. I was reading the Gadgetwise blog on The New York Times and came across the news item, Batman’s New Perch Above Gotham: Your iPad. It was all about a new game/toy/app from Mattel called, Apptivity. For about twenty bucks you get two toys (in this case, one is Batman and the other one is his flying machine from The Dark Knight Rises movie) and the downloadable app/game. The toys can glide over the iPad screen without doing any damage. Mattel and Batman aren’t the first to do this (Lego and Crayola have offerings as well). What makes this interesting is the marketing opportunities and the integration of the physical and digital world.

Souvenirs, novelties, party tricks.

As the digitization of books, music and film rapidly changes how we buy and interact with these media, I’ll always remember how Seth Godin said (many years back) that the physical entities (he was speaking of books and CDs, in particular) will become more like souvenirs (collectibles) and the value would come from the desire to collect in lieu of paying for the value of the content (premium, exclusive and VIP products as well). When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing to see how quickly our world has adopted to a digital entertainment economy. When I pay fifteen dollars for a book, I now prefer the digital-only version (nothing to schlep around and nothing to pack when I move). My iPad doesn’t collect much dust (unlike my CD, DVD, book and comic book collections).

But, we still like things.

Whether it’s collectibles, knick knacks, a toy or something to show off to the neighbor, the vast majority of people still like to collect and have that physical connection with something (admittedly, this is something that is becoming less and less important to me). This Batman game/toy/app/collectible interests me because you can see the extension as it unfolds into many layers. Things like: additional characters, new games, crossovers into other games, limited edition pieces, hidden levels (for a price) and beyond. From a marketing perspective, this is less about how a brand can integrate product placement and much more about understanding the dynamics of having something in market that is both physical and digital and where each path can lead down new and interesting roads with significant paid models (when done right). Physical goods and virtual goods collide.

As with everything…

"When done right" is the key here. If the game is lame, the product is lame. If the toys don’t really add to the experience, it will be seen as lame, and then the product is lame. I haven’t played with Apptivity, so there’s no judgment on how this plays out (pun intended). It’s just fascinating to think about this moment in time, because so many people still want to hold on to the physical while we race (at breakneck speeds) towards a digital world.

Let’s see how the consumers take to this. Smart brands can do some pretty innovative things (if they have the courage).


  1. I think this is an underrated space ripe for creativity. Having worked on digital projects at physical goods companies (toys, magazines), I’ve seen how physical and digital have tended to be split into two camps (often generationally) – with manufacturers scared of new digital models/possibilities and digital folks dismissing physical as passe and costly. This is of course changing and becoming more hybridized – not least because the majority of the market lives in-between.
    The interplay of objects and hands-on experiences with digital experiences like video and games is core to, a “many-media” adventure I’m involved in creating. It’s a story designed for tweens which delivers clues in the form of “modern antiques” (floppy disks, VHS, computer punch card, telegrams, etc.) via snail-mail. These in turn reveal a series of fictional video dispatches and virtual experiences. The overall experience is so much richer when everything blends.

  2. This brings to mind the new Evernote/Moleskine partnership. Where Evernote has created a photo feature specific to taking photos of your notes in the Moleskine. Thus making your notes organizable and searchable. Hence the marriage of physical and digital as outlined in your discussion.

  3. May bad Mitch! I commended and then read “ginevra’s” comment above! Apologies for the redundancy!

  4. Your article does open my mind. If physical things like CDs and DVDs become souvenir, shall we start something (new business) for that.

Comments are closed.