Old is the New New…Sometimes

Posted by Allison Ames on October 21, 2015

It seems that everyone likes a good dose of ‘what’s old is new again.’ And we’re seeing nostalgia reinvention come to life in pop culture today, from media to brands to consumer products and more. Marketers are taking advantage of this trend not just to connect with Baby Boomers’ obsession with their youth but also to find an authentic way to attract millennials (Barney is coming back!). The key is to focus on what’s nostalgic to more than one generation, otherwise, trying to capture each generation’s penchant for brands they grew up with can be a marketing nightmare, not to mention a drain on ROI.

It’s interesting to see that teens today love to watch Friends, drawn by the stress-free life it depicts when there was no overload of digital connections. Sex and the City is also experiencing a resurgence with the 20+ crowd because its ageless message of the trials and tribulations of being single still resonate with young adults today. This month marks the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future. Not only is the iconic film being shown at Radio City Music hall as a live concert production by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, but Pepsi is taking advantage of fans of Marty McFly and Doc Brown by releasing a limited run of Pepsi Perfect, one of the most memorable product placements in movie history. Of course, these events deliver a ride back to the 1980s for Boomers, but make no mistake about it, this is an authentic opportunity to lock in millennials who are becoming more and more intrigued by the meeting of past and present.

Brand revival, however, is trickier than placing bets on TV and film comebacks despite the fact that everyone loves a comeback. You’re placing heavy investment commitments on re-design, research, re-branding, product development, shelf space, marketing and advertising in hopes of long-term sales and success. The classic comeback story of Apple is revered and yet, hard to replicate. Success will depend on a brand’s unique meaning, energy and relevance to consumers today. And that’s hard to predict especially with the millennial crowd. It requires a real emotional connection with a brand as well as an internal champion who can see the way to the future brand positioning (e.g., Steve Jobs).

So what’s smart and what’s not?

  • Smart is the Jordan brand betting on our obsession with sneakers, true to all generations, and bringing back a slew of retro trainers. This is a great example of a product and brand that is trusted and relevant today and can tap into the retro trend in a hip and authentic way.
  • Smart is SMEG, a 65-year old Italian appliance brand that has been selling 1950’s style refrigerators that are becoming increasingly popular today as consumers are attracted to retro-modern design.
  • Smart is the return of Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes despite the strong nutrition trend among millennials, demonstrating that a powerful brand can buck a trend.
  • Smart is Dr. Martens, the on again, off again brand that has hit a chord with consumers by tapping into fashion trends that make vintage hip.
  • Not so smart is BMW’s redesign of the Mini, a once brilliant product re-launch back in 2002. U.S. sales have been sliding for the past two years and its new models have been criticized for losing its original and distinct design focus.
  • Not so smart is the return of KFC’s iconic Colonel Sanders (played by impersonating actor, Darrell Hammond) in a retro TV ad attempting to go after Gen Xers who are, instead, dining at Chipotle and Panera. Nobody can replace the Colonel himself.

So how do you teach old brands new tricks? If you want to bank on consumers’ nostalgic emotions to pull off a successful re-launch, it’s not just about looking back to our past, it’s about re-imagining how a beloved iconic brand can still be authentic and relevant today. It’s a tough challenge but one that can and has been achieved by smart brands and visionary marketers.

As President, Beanstalk, Allison Ames oversees the day-to-day leadership and operational responsibilities for Beanstalk globally, including developing and executing the agency’s strategic direction and oversight of Beanstalk’s consolidated P&L. Reporting directly to Michael Stone, CEO, she works alongside Michael as well as Beanstalk’s CFO/COO and Managing Director of Europe & Asia Pacific on key short and long-term strategic growth initiatives.

Allison Ames

Allison Ames

Allison Ames serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Beanstalk, a leading global brand licensing agency and part of the Diversified Agency Services division of Omnicom Group. In her role, Allison oversees the strategic direction of the global agency and leads its growth efforts with an eye toward providing the most effective and comprehensive expertise on strategic brand extensions for its clients around the world. She also manages all operations of the agency worldwide.

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