I won’t mess around with you: it’s right here. Don’t click on that until you’ve finished reading, though, or you’ll never get back, because that page is as fascinating and profound as it is simple and fun. It’s a new experiment by, of all unexpected people, Bic. Yeah, the same Bic that makes your lighter and your pen. It’s called the Universal Typeface Experiment, and it’s the best piece of internet marketing I’ve seen in a long, long time.
It’s so good because most people won’t even think of it as marketing; it’s marketed as an experiment in human handwriting, and it’s marketed excellently. The process is simple: you go download an app, and then you write the alphabet on your touchscreen. Bic takes all of the several hundred thousand characters that people write on their touchscreens, and averages all of them. The result is, in theory at least, the perfect archetype of human English characters.
And the results really are fascinating. The average ‘O’ and ‘Q’, for example, don’t connect at the top. The average ‘R’ and ‘B’ don’t touch the vertical line in the middle (but ‘P’ does.) The average ‘D’ and ‘P’ both cross the line noticeably at the top, but not at the middle/bottom. And you can delve down by looking at the averages of specific genders, occupational categories, handedness, and more. It’s really quite interesting stuff. (Don’t go look at it yet. Finish reading first.)
It’s also insanely good marketing. Why? Because Bic managed to take something that they do that’s relatively boring — selling pens — and turn it into something that’s not only fascinating, it’s downright viral. (I mean, really, I’m telling you about it, so clearly it’s working, right?)
The only obvious marketing element is the subtle note in the lower right corner — “Brought to you by Bic.” But it’s enough — because thousands of people are going to see this thing, and even if there’s no blatant marketing, the mere exposure effect tells us that just seeing the trademarked Bic logo will make us more likely to buy Bic pens in the future.
It’s been only eight days since Bic unveiled its project, and already they’re featured on news sites like the New York Daily News. Their site has just over four hundred thousand characters recorded. Assume that each person recorded all 28 English letters, and that divides out to some 14,000 people who have already participated in this thing — just in the last week. You can expect those numbers to grow as the virality blossoms, then the rate of growth to slow…until…
…until Bic unveils its new Universal Typeface font sets. Because you know it’s coming. Fonts based on the averages for your gender, handedness, occupation, age, and so forth. Most of them will be markedly similar, sure, but even now you can go on there and see a distinction between, for example, the male and female ‘N’s. How cool is that going to be?
Cool enough to make Bic a phat load of new customers — above and beyond the ones they’re making from the on-app portion of the project. This is how marketing could and should be done in the digital age, and while clearly most people aren’t financially equipped to embark on a project of quite this scope, the message is clear: traditional internet marketing may work, but as connectivity and interactivity increases, it’s projects like this that will ‘win’.