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I was recently at the One Show Interactive awards ceremony, for these are great occasions to get a sense of what is the kind of work that’s being recognized as the best out there but also to pick up a sense of the trends shaping up the industry. And much to my surprise, this show did provide an interesting insight: Online is becoming Offline. Let me explain this seemingly incongruous statement: a lot of the work that got recognition was actually Online work that had a real impact, that provoked a physical transformation, that created a palpable presence on the real world - the Offline world. For once, bits and digits seem to be venturing beyond their native screens to take over our cities, landscapes, stores and squares. Are we witnessing a Digital Invasion? It may sound far-fetched at first, but let’s look at the evidence. The Best of Show project was the Chalkbot. This banks on a tradition of the Tour de France, when spectators write chalk messages on the streets and routes the bikers go through as a way to incentivize them. So to promote the Nike Livestrong Foundation, a contraption was built on a truck to receive messages sent by users via SMS, Twitter, web banners or a microsite, and in turn it would write them on the roads with sprayed chalk (check all references to better understand their scope, they are better seen than read.) This allowed users to have their real messages at the race, even while being thousands of miles away. (Obs to coding: these links should be embedded into the name of the project) Not convinced? Then take the Pizza Tracking Show. This one let users choose the pizza and toppings they wanted online – no big deal, but this is for Domino’s Japan, so a higher level of intensity was needed: while you wait for your pizza to be delivered, you can track its “progress” online, since Domino’s workers will scan the pizza’s unique bar code (yes, I used “pizza” and “its unique bar code” in the same sentence) at every step of its preparation and will tell you exactly where it is in its cooking process (“Baking is now complete!”) Sounds like one of those crazy Japanese TV shows…and it is! While your pizza is being baked and tracked, you get a synchronized real-time movie that replicates all the steps your own pizza is going through, at exactly the same pace and timing…branded entertainment with pepperoni and cheese, please. But pizza is a bit small, you’d say. So what about the World’s Biggest Signpost? To showcase Nokia’s online navigation service, a 150-feet tall SMS-controlled signpost was built, with the ability to turn 360° and display the direction and distance to people’s inputs about their favorite places all over the world. Of course the data was sent through all forms of digital channels and the results, on top of being displayed on the signpost, pointing to the direction of the place and its distance to it, would also be displayed on all available digital channels. With its height, the signpost stood as tall as a 15-story building. Hard not to miss that… And the examples don’t stop there. To promote a homeless help program in NY, a virtual homeless person was projected on real places where people would not expect to see one; Uniqlo’s Tokyo Fashion Map was built around real snapshots of young men and women wearing the brand’s clothes, remapping Japan based on fashion; the HBO Imagine cube became a real 3D sculpture on Times Square where you’d have to go around it to see the 4 stories happening at the same time to understand the plot. And to top it all off, this was the first show to create a whole new category on Augmented Reality, where the physical world is a requirement for the online to work properly. This is the rising trend: Online will use the Physical World more and more as a medium, as a support for its full deployment. Online becomes Offline. Why is this happening? Is it a way for Online, the ugly duckling of the Communication Mix, to finally assert its growing supremacy, a way to get recognition for its rising importance? This overflowing to the material world, this need to go beyond the glass confinement of all screens and take over the word must mean more than just an affirmative way to tell us that Online has finally arrived. Yes, it has, but what this trend points to – and what all these mentioned projects have in common – is a new way to engage with users. Online was already unique in this aspect: it is the only medium that can boast of enabling two-way communication between brands and consumers. No other medium can do that. That led to a dialogue, where we have the ability to get answers to our unique questions or to use that two-way conversation to get connected to the world. Up to now, this dialogue is the way to create engagement that in turn will create great brands. But it is still immaterial. As this dialogue matures even more, it is becoming clear that just the virtual communication we were allowed through Online is not enough: we missed the tangible aspect, the material link, the missing dimension in a 3D world. The need to add that missing dimension to the two-way dialogue is what’s driving Online to the real world. Only there its connection with users will be complete and fulfilled. The Era of the Tangible Engagement is here. For brands, products and services to succeed in this new age, they will need to have engaging messages and compelling communications that their users will embrace and use and make their own. That’s the prerequisite. But on top of that they’ll also need to create tangible ways to achieve that goal. That’s why Online is becoming Offline: the immaterial needs to be material. Is your brand ready for Tangible Engagement? Make sure it is by checking how well the two-way communication between your brand and your consumers is happening now. If that dialogue does not exist, then you need to take the first step and create the means for that to happen. Just make sure you act fast to do so, because otherwise you may soon be left with a brand that will be confined to a screen where it can be experienced but not in its full dimension. Online is becoming Offline and you need to get ready for it.