There’s no doubt that we live in an age of ever-increasing technological sophistication – indeed, in so many aspects of our lives it’s hard to remove ourselves from the increasingly interconnected world we inhabit. The so-called ‘internet of things’ – that is, interconnection via the Internet of everyday objects – forms an ever-expanding core of the products and services we’re told we really want and need in our lives.
Whether it’s the smartphone in your pocket, the smart watch on your arm, the multi-functional printer in your office, or even your coffee machine, it feels like everything is moving in the same direction – touch screen, HDMI ready, Bluetooth compatible, and too clever for its own good!
It seems we can’t conceive of a product’s viability and usefulness unless it connects to everything else in our lives so that, wherever we are, we can still find that adorable video of a panda cub sneezing or a three-legged dog skateboarding – and then share it with everyone we know.
So it may have come as a surprise to many to see the media furore provoked by Nokia’s launch announcement for the ‘new’ 3310 at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It’s not really a new phone at all; it’s a slightly upgraded version of the same model that Nokia stopped making 17 years ago. In the smartphone world, the new Nokia 3310 has an IQ well below average. And yet, Nokia is capitalising on something that is an almost priceless commodity in marketing – nostalgia.
Doubtless the ‘younger generation’ – of which I am sadly no longer a member – will look on and wonder why such hype has been created by the launch of a product that is, quite obviously, inferior to any modern smartphone on the market today – some of which launched to far less clamorous interest at MWC despite offering truly incredible features, such as Sony’s new 4K HDR handset (that’s high dynamic resolution, or for those in my generation and older ‘an even better picture’).
You can’t easily identify what someone will feel nostalgic about. Some products are re-invigorated and labelled ‘retro’ (like record players) – and retro is effortlessly cool. But some products are just old (like an Austin Metro) – and trying to make old look cool is just sad.
Perhaps it’s just that Nokia has spotted a gap in the market – that despite the ever-improving functionality of modern smartphones, they are now all much of a muchness, with their hi-res screens, mega pixel cameras and plethora of ‘really useful’ apps. In the world of the mobile phone, meaningful product differentiation is king, and perhaps some people actually just want a cheap phone with a long battery life. Some people, perhaps, aren’t interested in seeing the panda cub sneezing in 4K HDR in the palm of their hand over a 4G network – perish the thought!
Then again, the Nokia 3310 was the first phone that many of us ever owned. We learnt to text on its clunky buttons, we stopped having to carry loose change for emergency phone calls. It brought Snake to our thumb tips for goodness sake (look it up youngsters…although you may be underwhelmed). All that nostalgia is something a company like Nokia can capitalise on – just ask someone of my generation if they remember Snake and their eyes are likely to glaze over as they reminisce about the good old days.
In re-launching the 3310, Nokia has seemingly hit on a perfect trinity of marketing essentials: timing, product nostalgia and brand recognition. Doubtless a host of other manufacturers like Motorola and HTC will roll-out ‘new’ versions of their old products over the coming months. The launch announcements will probably be made to the tops of heads, as the audience busily chase pixelated apples around a lo-res screen with a pixelated snake…