Neo Nostalgia in Advertising


I hear Americans have been known to shed a tear with Iron Eyes Cody (you can watch the 1971 Keep America Beautiful ad here).

We know which spot Brits voted the greatest TV commercial of all time:

Hovis – Bike Ride by Ridley Scott on YouTube.

Some folks would find that Hovis ad mawkish now. Some folks would feel the same about the word “folk”.

But I guess that’s where neo nostalgia skirts round the issue.

Cadbury Eyebrows by Glass and a Half Full on YouTube.

Fallon and Cadbury have made beautiful use of neo nostalgia – twice – with an indirect approach to nostalgia.

In Eyebrows, the soundtrack is potentially nostalgic (if you’re the right age). But more important is the art direction’s attention to the detail of an 80s school photo – the kind you just don’t get anymore.

It affects you while you’re disarmed and distracted.

With Gorilla, the neo nostalgia was even more subliminal. There is a connection between a drumming gorilla and Phil Collins, because Phil Collins was a drummer (ironically, bald).

We are tapped up by nostalgic trivia without even realising it, because we’re distracted by the surprise and absurdity.

Virgin Atlantic: 25 Years, Still Hot on YouTube.

Virgin are brasher, as you’d expect. But the obvious aggression of “Miners’ strike!” and Frankie Goes to Hollywood opens you up to a subtler appeal.

Defunct or nostalgic brands – Our Price and Wimpys – do the leg work on a subconscious level. We’re roped in, despite our sense of immunity, into feeling nostalgia.

Maybe it’s just the cynics who need a postmodern sheen. But it works on me.

**A SHORT COMMERCIAL BREAK** Most nostalgia ads are terrible. See Item A.

1998 Werther’s Original Commercial on YouTube.

Don’t know about you, but that bro wasn’t much like my grandad.

And that’s the big problem with direct, mawkish nostalgia. It’s blatantly inauthentic – it’s too blunt and impersonal for the noughties.

Still, more people are looking backwards now for inspiration. We survived the 1930s. We survived the 1950s.

There’s hope in the past and nothing certain in the future.

I’ve got a bigger pop theory about loss, mourning and late capitalism but I’ll save that for some poor soul when I’m drunk. (Probably you, Tom.)

To end, a sober recommendation: Dorian Leader’s book The New Black. A light Freudian read on mourning and melancholia.

As Don Draper says, nostalgia evokes pain. I need to get a WWDDD bracelet.

2 comments so far

  1. […] great, take old photographs for the nostalgia (nice piece on nostalgia here, by the brilliant Big up the Bingley) add in your signature illustrations, and Voila (as @mrkeithmartin would say) and here are the […]

  2. Julian Gratton on

    Great article. OI think it’s amazing how many companies are playing on nostalgia… we’ve got some opinions on why that is here:

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