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Real Magic

Real Magic

Yesterday, I attended the tenth annual Canada Post Think Inside the Box Conference. For obvious reasons, this conference always highlights research done to show why the “physical” (direct mail, parcels etc.) is often more impactful than the digital. This year was no different and the keynote speaker was David Sax, author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter

David’s talk was full of great examples of why “real” things like vinyl records, Moleskin notebooks, and board games are making a comeback – and why marketers should care. Listening to him made me think about a wonderful phone call I received yesterday.

Let me explain.

Over the past few months my family and I have been living through a home renovation. It’s been a lot of disruption, a lot of dust and the occasional hidden gem. One of those little surprises came in the form of a small green coupon – yes, a coupon, the type of thing Canada Post might market as Unaddressed -or Neighbourhood -Admail™.

What was immediately interesting about the small coupon, found tucked behind an old baseboard, was it’s value; it offered the bearer the grand sum of one cent to be applied to purchases at a local pharmacy. It was clear that it had been hidden for many years (probably close to 75).

What made my contractor keep it for me -and what made me hang onto it to show it to the family at Thanksgiving – is perhaps the magic of the physical. Of course, we have all read stories about the value of a dollar in the thirties – so there’s nothing particularly surprising about the fact of coupon was worth one cent. But there was something about holding a piece of marketing history in my hand that was different.

So I put it in my wallet and didn’t notice it again for a few weeks; and here is where the story really takes a turn to the magical. I was at the family cottage for Thanksgiving and showed it to my mother-in-law; I thought she might appreciate a little something from the era she was born. After spending a couple minutes looking at it, it’s a strange look crossed her face. “Emma, do you know who the druggist E.R. Foster was?!” She exclaimed. “No …”, I answered. To my absolute disbelief, she told me that this pharmacist was the grandfather of my brother-in-law – an amazing coincidence!

Of course, I shared this with my brother-in-law who in turn promised to share it with his 97-year-old mother.

So, yesterday I received a wonderful phone call from that dear woman. She called to thank me for passing on a small bit of green paper. She shared with me that touching that link to the past had brought memories flooding back. She said it transported her to the soda fountain in her father’s pharmacy where she and her sister enticed local kids to come in – eventually hooking their parents as customers.  This small green coupon brought back the image of her father packaging up supplies for young men over at the front during the war, fun times with her sister and the kids from the local church and a host of memories of the family business that was so much part of her childhood.

“I cannot tell you,” she said, her voice quavering a little. ” …how much this meant to me.”

Listening to the speakers today, it occurred to me that had I found an article online about her father’s pharmacy – even if there had been a picture of her father standing our front – I don’t think it would’ve meant as much. There was something about actually touching this piece of the past that I gave her so much joy.

As marketers we’re always looking for ways to touch people’s emotions and perhaps “real things” really do do that best. Maybe it’s just that I drank a bit of the Canada Post Kool-Aid today, but I don’t think so.

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