What brands can learn from Caine's Arcade
The beautiful story of Caine's Arcade shines a light on the shifting currents of the post-digital world.
It's not an app, it wasn't dreamed up by teenage coders in a Palo Alto garage and it is made entirely of cardboard, yet Caine's Arcade is the subject of one of the most popular videos on the web this month.
When nine-year-old Caine Monroy created an arcade in his dad's used auto parts store in East Los Angeles, he hardly thought the venture would fund his college education. After all, a 'fun pass' to the arcade, which allows 500 plays, costs just $2, and until recently he had just one customer.
It was a tough market; much of his dad's business has gone online, so he didn't get much walk-up custom. This didn't stop him from spending his summer waiting for customers.
When film-maker Nirvan Mullick discovered he was Monroy's only customer, he decided to set up a flashmob. Caine described the event as 'the greatest day of his life' as his arcade was crammed with people, and it was captured in a film that can make adults cry. Mullick's film has almost 4m views at the time of writing, and viewers' donations to Monroy's college fund are being made daily.
So why so much attention? While many nine-year-olds would be glued to their games console, this boy's commitment to hands-on creativity has struck a post-digital chord.
The flight to tradition is a well-established post-recessionary trend, but in the days of 'screenagers', where many kids' best friend seems to be a smartphone, the assumption that the flow from offline to online is one-way is being challenged.
Caine's Arcade underlines the fresh ways in which consumers are using the internet, not to circumvent traditional communications and communities, but to rebuild and reinvent them.
When you consider the kids who spent their last summer holiday glued to the Xbox, the film has even more poignancy.
The console, which markets itself with the strapline 'You are the controller', is no match for Monroy, an inspirational creator in his own right.
What does post-digital behaviour mean for brands?
Marketers who argue that the transition to digital channels is a one-way migration need to think again. Consumers are using the web to champion traditional pursuits or bricks-and-mortar stores. One example is storebuyout.com, where a group led by Kyle McDonald, the entrepreneur who famously traded up from one red paperclip to a house in 2005, attempted to save Hercules Fancy Grocery in New York by buying every item in the store.
According to research from Polestar Communications, the recession has affected people's attitudes to leisure pursuits, leading to a definite 'back to basics' trend. While the channels consumers use have changed, the fundamental drivers of behaviour remain the same.
The flight to tradition
It is a well-established fact that at times of political, social and economic pressure, consumers retreat to the comfort of tradition. In the UK this has been used by brands including Procter & Gamble, which in 2010 re-issued the classic Fairy Liquid bottle. More recently, a host of brands ran vintage ads around the season five premiere of Mad Men on Sky Atlantic last month.
Nicola Clark is Marketing's head of features. Follow her on Twitter: @nickykc.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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