Back to the Retro Brand Future!

Conventional marketing wisdom seems to focus on the fact that innovation is king, and we should always be striving for that next big bright shiny new idea. Except, it seems, when it comes to branding.

Going retro is hardly the newest trend (just ask my boyfriend- thanks to Air Jordan’s retro re-releases, his shoe collection manages to surpass my own on occasion), but I think it’s interesting how persistent it is. In the past few years plenty of big-name brands have had big-name logo redesigns to varying results, mostly ranging from “meh” (eBay, anyone?) to “ick” (I’m looking at you, Gap). Ironically, some of the most recently successful businesses and campaigns have been the ones borrowing from the past rather than striving for the streamlined future. Pepsi released popular throwback cans of their pops, General Mills met success with their vintage cereal boxes, and even in Wendy’s recent logo refresh they kept the spirit of the original Wendy intact.

I see a fair amount of pessimism concerning throwback marketing. People point to the need for comfort in a bad economy, or the psychological gimmick of familiarity- you’re more likely to trust a brand that’s been well established, and throwbacks harp on a company’s longevity, after all- but I don’t think that’s true across the board. I think it comes down to a sense of fun, and personality.

A lot of today’s consumers aren’t old enough to remember the nostalgic cues they’re being shown, myself included. I’m active on Instagram but by the time I was in college my campus didn’t even have a dark room, let alone a film photography course. I enjoy the occasional episode of Mad Men, but even my parents were too young to remember much about the 60s. And I sure don’t remember Sonny the Cuckoo wearing a bowtie, but I immediately found myself buying a box of Cocoa Puffs when the old-school boxes were on the shelves. So what are consumers my age reacting to? Pure aesthetics, partially, but I think it really comes down to that sense of fun. Crack out a couple goofy cartoon characters and you go a long way toward humanizing the big corporations I’ve grown up with my whole life.

But what do you think? Are throwbacks just another gimmick, or a clever expression of a brand’s personality?

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