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Choose your Vintage: Marketing to the Nostalgic

So long as bucket hats stay on to Spike Island- that’s all I ask.

You might think it a tragic state of affairs that the defining culture of the past five-to-ten years is one which relentlessly pillages the last century for aesthetic inspiration rather than come up with its own. In an age where human technological advancement continually accelerates at breakneck speeds, it seems paradoxical that we’re incapable of coming up with our own ‘staples’. This is also entirely hypocritical, being written by someone who bought into the retro revival hook line n’ sinker. Consider this an insider’s insight then...

The point at which the general public collectively decided to put on their nostalgia-goggles is open for debate, but I’m going to put it at around 2009- and it’s all Mick Jagger’s fault. The iconic ‘tongue’ logo, a staple of ‘60s counter-culture which for its time was considered by mum and dad to be wildly sexually suggestive, especially when backed by album with titles like ‘sticky fingers’. Somewhere along the line, the Stones must have lost at least some level of control over their brand, as ‘tongue’ t-shirts started popping up everywhere, not least of all places - Primark. And that was just the start. The next two big names to line up for mass-commercialisation where the Ramones, and Joy Division’s ‘pulsar’ album artwork from their LP debut Unknown Pleasures. In case you were wondering, that’s the soundwave recorded by Cambridge scientists of a dying star. Whilst it might be a bit of a stretch to attribute the entire 2010’s vintage revival to three t-shirts, no non-school uniform day was complete without at least two of these designs being spotted.

 

Fast-forward 6 years and you can now buy vinyl in Sainsbury’s. Vinyl. In Sainsbury’s. Not only that, but Justin Bieber released his last album on vinyl – just let that sink in. Who would’ve thought in 2008 that he’d be on the black plastic? He’s joined by the likes of Taylor Swift and Adele as the big names who have lent their work to the format, which a few years prior was reserved for underground bands who knew that they’d only sell about three copies anyway. This trend led to Zavvi black-hole-filler Fopp to declare on their storefront that ‘Vinyl is Killing MP3s’, a tongue-in-cheek line which is edging closer to reality.

[Bare Knuckle out of the UK make custom guitar pickups with a bite.]

Yet whilst there is no doubt an influx of retro-marketing flooding storefronts right now, appealing to an imagined past is nothing new. Why else do so many companies put ‘est.’ on their branding? It creates a sense of tradition, an institution which has weathered the worst and stood the test of time, even if some seem to stretch it a bit – I walked past a restaurant the other day that proudly proclaimed ‘est. 1991’…


Yet whilst the nostalgia revival has its roots in music, it has no doubt spread to a great number of other mediums. Clothing has no doubt joined the fray, from high street giants to slew of small independent retailers which have cropped up over the years.

 

One of the biggest industries to cotton on to the culture is perhaps the one that you might least expect – food.

 

 

Key features of nostalgified packaging designs is simplicity; decluttering the visuals has the effect of creating more striking designs which stick with shoppers and lead to a more cohesive brand identity. The evolution of PG tips boxes is a perfect example:

[Note the addition of the ‘est.’ on the right]

Monster Munch chose to spell it out as literally as possible:

So whilst nostalgia has always been a marketing tool, its proliferation amongst a whole range of brands feels significant. Typically, these things come and go in waves. What marketers can take away from this is clues as to how to spot trends before they emerge; keeping an ear to the ground and watching spaces which are the most likely to define cultural movements. Between the music and fashion industries pillaging the post-war decades, and Hollywood resurrecting every franchise under the sun until just about every blockbuster of the last century has been re-made, it might not be the worst idea for marketers to design in such a way as to ape pop-culture. 

 

 

 

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