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Monday, June 23, 2014

If you thought the nostalgia marketing bubble was due to burst any time now, keep thinking. Reputable ad firms are producing more “remember this” campaigns than ever, leading some to wonder whether this is now a permanent part of advertising.

Recently, launched a series of ads featuring the original Dukes of Hazard stars--not the actors who played those characters in the big budget reboot from a few years back. AutoTrader’s campaign is fun and memorable, and plays off themes Dukes fans will love, but you have to wonder: Have we broken the industry?

Hollywood Syndrome

When was the last time a major film studio backed an exciting new franchise? Godzilla, Star Trek, Josie and her Pussycats…you’ve seen it all before. And it’s not just the pulp! Studio execs haven’t met a Shakespeare or Jane Austen rewrite or spin-off they couldn't throw a huge budget and a pile of A-listers at.

Be honest: Every time you see a new trailer for an upcoming I dream of Jeannie or Voltron reboot, you worry nothing new will ever be funded. Hollywood has dusted off and propped up all the good ol’ days favorites, and we all know it’s just plain laziness.

If we all agree this strategy is sub-par, why are we marketers relying on lazy appeals to the characters and products we outgrew decades ago?  

Nostalgia Sells

The short answer is nostalgia has worked pretty well for many brands. Sure, there are some disaster stories, like Nintendo’s downward spiral, propelled by appeals to people who love characters created 20 years ago.

For the most part, though, we love seeing our old favorites re-imagined and sporting the latest brands. Blame it on whatever suits you:

Wistful longing for better days
Regret over the loss of our 9/11 or pre American Idol innocence
Acceptance of  the fact Hannah-Barbera is relevant in any context

As long as our audience keeps rewarding our efforts to associate everything new with anything old, there seems to be no reason for the marketing industry to move on from lazy, cloying sentiment. We've become reliable machines, chugging along and doing the same things we've done for 20 years. 

Remember Creativity?

It’s a sign of the times that even consumers are nostalgic for the marketers of old. Remember when an ad manager would have responded to your pitch with: 

Dukes of Hazard? That’s been done twice already, show me something fresh!” Then he would have lit up a Marlboro, backhanded you in front of your peers and tossed back a fifth of gin.

Is it time to give creativity a second chance? If you’re afraid you’ve forgotten how to think outside the Nick at Night box, here are some exercises to jumpstart your marketing General Lee:

Read a book
Shaking up your mental imagery can kick-start your brainstorming. Some of the most original imagery and ideas are being published in literary fiction and graphic novels. Take a break from your favorite marketing blogs and HBO movies for a few nights and earn some paper cuts.

Resurrect the classics
Read up on marketing strategies people used prior to the television age to rediscover what used to get attention and influence people, and how to apply that to your audience. If you’re stuck in a reinvention rut, you can at least reinvent the classics.

Remember why you outgrew all that stuff you outgrew
Change the way you think about the things consumers are supposed to feel sentimental toward. You stopped watching Two and a Half Men and ThunderCats for very good reasons, and so did your audience. Just because it used to be popular doesn't mean you need to subject the next generation to it.

What we do isn't rocket science, it’s persuasion. Shouldn't we have more in our toolbox than The Jetsons and Apollo 13?


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