Friday, August 27, 2010

Is Vintage the New Vintage?

Some of my favorite quotes of all time have originated from Carl Carlson, the under-rated social narcissist on the simpsons:

"I am so sick of Oldies Stations-- hey geniuses, how 'bout some NEW oldies?!" --Carl Carlson, The Simpsons

Carl: I don't get it. What's so "great" about this depression?
Lenny: I like how everything is sepia tone. Makes me all nostalgic.

It isn't surprising that a vast amount of advertising last year focused around value. Major brands were forced into price wars; most prominent in low-switching cost industries such as CPG or restaurants. With the media continually bombarding us with messages of high unemployment, high national debt and foreclosures, it was almost a no-brainer that people tightened their purse-strings to save a dollar or two. An induced effect of this bombardment is a consumer behaviour phenomenon called cocooning/anchoring. It suggests that as the prospect of a prosperous future is uncertain to bleak, consumers inherently fall back on brands they know and trust. This makes for a powerful basis for marketing communications. So welcome to the hallmark trend of advertising in 2010; Vintage/Nostalgia.

Maximidia Seminars: Vintage Youtube

Maximidia Seminars: Vintage Skype

Maximidia Seminars: Vintage Facebook

A perfect example of this nostalgia (albeit for new brands) from Moma Sao Paulo (I love how some of the most unique work come from South America)

Everywhere we go today there's bound to be some use of nostalgia marketing, whether it be billboards, clothing designs or store buildouts. When tastefully done, it can actually be quite effective. Coca Cola for example has always been excellent at this balancing act of new versus old. In comparison, Pepsi has taken the opportunity to fully re-invent themselves recently; a risky proposition when consumers are secretly seeking stability and familiarity. It seems to be effective though; I bought this box of Raisin Bran two months ago just because I liked the design of it. I don't even like the cereal.

The only thing riskier than completely re-inventing yourself is pretending to be old and authentic. Heritage is one of the most powerful tools for nostalgia marketing; and many companies and brands are quickly writing or grossly over-rating their ability to be vintage. Consumer backlash is bound to ensue.

Super Soaker: Creek

I remember growing up with Super Soakers, but this ad means nothing to me. Do marketers really expect me to relate to an oil on canvas recreation loosely related to the American Civil War? Personally I think it's offensive to classical art of that time and earlier to represent it in such a way. And since my generation is likely the last to even know where a museum is located, I can't imagine that this is relating to current consumers of Super Soakers either.

Dunkin Donuts logo

Here's another example of misguiding consumers to a "vintage feel". Timothy's was founded in 1975; although the typography is more reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s. The colours used in the typeface are also strikingly close to Dunkin' Donuts. Dunkin' Donuts has however been around since the 1950s.

The last risk of vintage marketing is the associations to cultural stigmas such as the sexist attitudes towards women that was prevalent during the mid 20th century. The above advertisement by BIC (founded around 1945) recently sent much of the social media world aflame. However, even more offensive than long legs with a revealing short dress are the odd new commercials by Mr. Sub; essentially dubbing over old B/W instructional videos:

When I first saw this commercial broad casted live my draw dropped in utter disbelief, climaxing when the secretary is awarded the role of: Vice President of Lunch Selection. To elaborate, the video's title is dubbed "subcretary". I presume it was meant in a humorous tone, but I feel it failed in a galactic fashion. If you disagree let me know in the comments.

This entire trend has been wrongly associated with the wild popularity of HBO's Mad Men; a drama revolving around a (fictional) 1960s Madison Avenue advertising agency. This only aids in re-enforcing the interesting moral fibers of the time, including drinking/sleeping at work, disrespecting women and the "safety" of cigarettes. It stands as a relatively accurate representation of the era, although as is usually the case, consumers take it too literally. This is especially true when marcom is utilizing nostalgia as portrayed in the television show.

As it always does, general trust in advertising is based on two components; responsible and ethical companies and educated consumers. On the latter, consumers must make their own judgement as to what is appropriate and inappropriate. Ads reflecting on cultures and standards of decades past does not make them instantly acceptable and forgivable. For example, imagine if the Mr. Sub commercial was shot in a 21st century style with real actors' dialog. It's not so funny anymore, although it shouldn't have been the first time.

Companies also need to be responsible in line with cultural beliefs of the time, and be honest to their true heritage. In other words; be socially conscious and don't elude to a long history which does not exist. The Journal of Brand Management described it best:

"The key value that has moved to the front and centre of brand image in this time of uncertainty is authenticity, consumers seek the comfort of the real, something they can trust and count on. Authenticity has two meanings: the original and the substantive, things that are honest and are what they say they are." - Ronnie Ballantyne, Anne Warren, Karinna Nobbs. Journal of Brand Management. London: Apr-Jun 2006. Vol. 13, Iss. 4/5; pg. 339

Vintage can however be applied as a style. There's nothing wrong with producing items that reflect that style, as seen in the Fossil store:

Personally I'm not crazy about the whole vintage style. Isn't it about time we get some new vintage?

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