In 2017, We Hit Peak Nostalgia—Where Will Advertising Go Next?
James Roles, sales and marketing director at Five by Five, takes a look at the nostalgia fueling everything from Star Wars to Stranger Things
Modern society is fueled by nostalgia—we crave feelings of familiarity, a comfort blanket of Crash Bandicoot and Robot Wars protecting us from the dangers of the adult world. But it seems that in 2017, we hit peak nostalgia. The relaunch onslaught of beloved classics and lesser-known gems has overwhelmed us.
This in itself is a dichotomy of good and bad, fresh and stale; for every It you’ve got a slew of half-baked relaunches slithering down the drain. But what’s interesting is where this nostalgia is taking us. It’s no longer just a matter of rebooting something or doing a shot-by-shot remake of Psycho—lest we forget Vince Vaughn—but rather using nostalgia as a springboard into further terrain.
Take Star Wars. The Force Awakens was essentially a rehash of the original film, just 39 years later. Sure, there were different characters and the latest effects, but it followed a very similar narrative arc. That said, it was the fastest film to gross $1 billion to date. But when The Last Jedi’s plot unfurled in December, it used The Force Awakens’ fuzzy nostalgia as a trampoline to new plots and ideas.
The same goes for Blade Runner 2049, which takes the original film’s visual assault as its base, relying on fans from way back when to invest. Invest in the Blade Runner brand, invest in Harrison Ford as a heritage actor of supreme vintage. You can ignore the fact that Jared Leto pops up in it because look, Harrison Ford is back!
And this excitement seeps into other sectors: Channel 4 (and Amazon, in the U.S.) launched Electric Dreams, based on the works of Philip K. Dick. This reimagining of Dick’s works couldn’t have come at a better time.
When you have programs like Stranger Things acting as homages to ’80s pop culture, they’re gateways to the past while still being fresh, and throwing out exciting new ideas and angles. It’s original content inspired by the past, and that in turn engrains itself within culture. Since the success of Stranger Things, we’ve seen a massive upturn in the synthwave and darksynth musical subcultures as a direct result of the show’s soundtrack.
Stranger Things itself has provided peculiar ways for brands to launch new products and services: Topshop’s immersive launch of a clothing line based on the show and Snapchat’s innovative AR lens are just two examples of brands using this nostalgic boom to not just cash in, but actually further their launches and give customers more.
Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot Christmas ad has been described by the retailer’s U.K. marketing director as “[being like] Empire Strikes Back, not Grease 2.” Set to a score from Edward Scissorhands, it’s again steeped in nostalgia while still cutting new ground for a budget supermarket. Kevin appeared on mobile dating app Happn, too (he’s 24 in carrot years, in case you were wondering). It’s brilliant.
When you contrast with Marks & Spencer’s blockbuster Paddington Bear Christmas ad, the difference is palpable. Kevin’s hints at yesteryear break new ground, whereas Paddington merely offers escapism after a year crammed with “lots of unsettling news.” Cute as a button, yes, but Kevin’s onto a winner here.
So, have we actually run out of ideas? Is there nothing left in the tank? A cynic might say so, but when you look into it, it’s more than making the best of a bad situation. The smartest brands and products take nostalgia and integrate it into something different; Call of Duty may have gone back to its original settings in WWII, but with that comes a smorgasbord of modern features and improvements that the originals could never have mustered.
In a society obsessed with the past, there’s no shame in incorporating nostalgic elements into the future—in fact, it should be encouraged.
James Roles is sales and marketing director at launch strategy specialist Five by Five. With over 20 years of expertise and achievements in marketing, client servicing, business development and strategic sales, he has held senior roles within the marketing and media industries including client development lead at JCDecaux and News U.K, and head of brand marketing at The Times & Sunday Times. He spent 10 years at agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi, OMD and Universal McCann.