And now ’90s revival culture is everywhere -- from oversized jeans, flowery mini-dresses and combat boots, to illegal raves, reboots of “Sex and The City” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” 25th anniversary tours from Alanis Morissette, and re-releases of ’90s packaging and products.
As a Gen X-er and cultural marketer, I observed the trend with growing frustration because not one of the many news articles mentioned Gen X, to whom the ’90s belong. This gave way to a realization that the erasure was the height of irony, because as Gen X-ers, we were already alienated from mainstream ’90s culture.
The late great stylist Isabella Blow called the era one of “sabotage and tradition.” It was also a time of disruption and massive creative progress that gave birth to the golden age of hip-hop, indie, grunge, alt comedy, and many more movements that are being reconnoitered and sold as collectibles, like the ’90’s band T-shirts on Etsy that sell for $800 to $2000.
An Opportunity for Collaboration: Intergenerational Marketing
But instead of generational-appropriation exclusion, there’s a real opportunity here for intergenerational marketing, education and collaboration between Gen X, Y and Z.
Intergenerational marketing offers an embarrassment of riches for brands. It brings people together and allows for the collection of extraordinary insights and oral histories from multiple perspectives. It allows a clever way to save budget by recycling and updating archived content.
It also offers access to archival UGC, both analog and digital creativity to drive inspiration -- and most importantly, allows innovators to tap into the growing pool of mature, experienced talent, as well as up-and-coming creators.
It’s this cultural toggle between generations where I think the most interesting work will be found.
There are already plenty of signs that this is how it’s going to go. As usual, those signs are coming from black and queer culture. “Verzuz,” a webcast series that shows a battle between classic hip-hop and R & B artists, with a live-streamed experience and audio recap, racks up extraordinary stats.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” is such a mine of ’90s references that there’s now a You Tube Show dedicated to unpacking them for younger generations, on top of the vibrant Reddit community that shares intergenerational info.
DJ Cassidy’s remarkable “Pass The Mic” series on Twitch provides an unprecedented, heartfelt experience celebrating artists from the '80s to 90’s.
Then there’s HBO Max’s “Legendary,” which has taken the ’90’s voguing movement and not only brought it to a more mainstream audience, but updated the look, feel and energy of ’90’s ballroom houses with a thrilling mix of future-forward fashion and "new way" choreography.
If you’re still not convinced, consider the partnership that turned the last Blockbuster store briefly into an Airbnb Coke decorated in full '90s movie nostalgia, Coke's throwback to a 1993 March Madness ad, and Pizza Hut, which used Pac-Man to connect with AI gaming, even coining a new term for this intergenerational approach: “Newstalgia.”
All in all, intergenerational marketing has got to be considered a must-have, not a nice-to-have for brands in this next normal we’re navigating. In the ongoing battle against discrimination and ageism, surely this is a tipping point where we get to explore the connections, not the gaps, in our culture and shared passions. Because we’re all in comeback mode now, and that is a universal idea whose time has come.