How Brands Can Party Like It's 1999

Don’t look now, but the ‘90s are back. We can’t stop talking about Britney, J. Lo, Jordan and Paris. "Cruel Summer" became a breakout hit for Freeform. The “90sAnxiety” Instagram account has over two million followers. ‘90s fashion is returning to the runways and resale apps like Depop. And this month’s issue of Vanity Fairis dedicated entirely to 1999-2001.

Why are the ‘90s having a moment? This year, millennials are beginning to turn 40 and reminiscing about their youth. The oldest members of this generation came of age during the late nineties and early aughts. So just like our culture went crazy for the ‘50s during the ‘80s, the ‘70s in the late ‘90s, and the ‘80s during the aughts, we’re due to dip back 20-25 years and celebrate the glory days of the dominant generation.

Secondly, as we continue freaking out about COVID, climate change and current events, the late 1990s appear an increasingly idyllic era. No, they weren’t perfect, but we enjoyed a booming economy, budget surplus, friendly (if glitchy) Internet and peaceful planet. The dot-crash and disputed election of 2000 were “last call” before the party came to a screeching halt on 9/11. So it’s no wonder many relish a return to the halcyon days of 1996-1999, to tap into that feeling of safety, security, innocence and carefree fun.



Thirdly, those were the years that birthed pop culture as we know it today. Red carpet fashions going viral? Celebrities attending black-tie events in streetwear? Hip-hop culture seeping into the mainstream? Latin culture driving pop culture? Rappers and athletes becoming worldwide brands? Celebrities showing all, and viewers finding it more fascinating than fiction? Credit Britney, Mariah, J. Lo, Diddy, Bjork, Lil’ Kim, Paris, Ricky, Will and Jada for blazing those trails 20 years ago.

And lastly, the conflicts from the end of that era rage on today. We’re still enmeshed in Afghanistan. After going 130 years without a presidential impeachment, we’ve had three since 1998. Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Vladimir Putin, creations of 1999-2001 politics, continue making headlines and stoking arguments. The war of words between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly has turned into all-out warfare between liberal and conservative media. And we still debate the merits of day-trading buzzy tech stocks. We’re not repeating the past, but it’s definitely rhyming.

Knowing all of this, how can marketers successfully tap into 1990s “newstalgia”?

*Have fun with the fashion. The clothing from that era was fun, loud, colorful and daring, with hip-hop and blue-collar influences. Velour tracksuits could be formalwear, any article of clothing could be made of denim, and any part of the body could be proudly displayed. Consider how to incorporate this aesthetic into your campaign, perhaps with fashion upcycled or recycled from that era.

*Resurrect the celebs. J. Lo is probably beyond your budget, and Britney remains unavailable. But many other icons from this era are still well-known, well-loved and came of age before iPhones and social media. Consider a 1990s celebrity as your next spokesperson or influencer. Wouldn’t you follow the brand that brought back Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Sisqo, Sarah McLachlan, Lou Bega or Baha Men?

*Cross generations. There are fun ways to make a campaign accessible to those not around in the last millennium. Many of these icons are now parents (or grandparents), so bring their families into the mix, perhaps comparing and contrasting 1999 lifestyles to today’s, showing how much has changed -- yet still remains the same.

By following this playbook, marketers can experience the “J. Lo Effect” while avoiding the “Y2K bug” as they mine the ‘90s.

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