Bowling alleys and roller rinks are hot spots again, and even drive-in restaurants and movie theaters have made something of a comeback. Retro is the new trendsetter, as witnessed by the return of Converse All Stars, the Dodge Challenger, Pac-Man, Parcheesi, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Old Spice. In a previous entry, my colleague mentioned Cheerios cereal with retro packaging, and PepsiCo’s Pepsi Throwback, sold with the original graphics and formula.
So what exactly defines a “retro” brand? It’s a product or brand that had a successful run, goes away for a while, and then jars the consumer’s memory when it’s resurrected. Each subsequent generation finds something to rediscover from prior generations, and the cycle continues.
As millions of Boomers with trillions of dollars in spending power increasingly long for the “good old days” of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s – and get better at communicating via social media – the nostalgia craze is likely to grow. They’re approaching or entering their retirement years, and marketers are well aware that these retro brands tap into the desire of mature adults to recapture some of their youth as well as their memories of happier, simpler, less stressful times.
But as a Boomer, I can tell you those times were hardly simple, sometimes happier and rarely less stressful. Personally, I wear my Adidas Samoas because they have a timeless design, not because they remind me of my days at Northwestern Lehigh High School.
Bottom line: I don’t think we Boomers are as nostalgic as people think we are.
We like change. A recent study conducted by AARP and the Kantar Group suggested that, as a target audience, we’re a lot less loyal than previously thought, particularly when it comes to specific product brands. The researchers surveyed 35,000 consumers over age 42. When the results were in, they yielded some surprises:
If anything, it appears that what this demographic most appreciates is a new take on an iconic brand: a refresh of the Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Beetle and Fiat 500 rather than simple reissues; Converse’s Chuck Taylors printed with street-artist graphics instead of the original selection of three or four basic colors; the rebrand of the Old Spice TV commercial, which features a wacky sailor blowing through the door. We’ll buy a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon when we see college kids drinking it, and thank our stars for Sierra Nevada.
So what’s the lesson for marketers? If you’re going to revive a brand, consider the aspects of its heritage that will connect with older consumers, then create a bond with them by keeping the basic look, name, formula or other links with the past. Second, create a real and meaningful dialogue with this target audience, many of whom currently believe that most messages are aimed at someone younger. Third, make it fresh; add a new twist. And finally, remember just how much Boomers like change. It’s no longer a given that they’ll stick with your product, even if they’ve been loyal to it from an early age.
This doesn’t mean that Boomers are anti-retro by any means, or that we reject the use of nostalgia as a way to connect. It’s merely an observation from the Boomer perspective: Improvement (or reinvention) is as important as habit in influencing the brands we choose. After all, some brands from our past died for a reason.
I’m willing to let Hai Karate go. How about you?