I sometimes wonder what became of the words “old-fashioned” or “outdated”. There was a time when new things were exciting, and old things were seen as boring. But this appears to no longer be the case in the 21st century.
The value of the “tried and tested” in a world punctuated by the new, different, novel and temporal has finally been recognised by marketers and consumers alike. Today what is considered fashionable sits on both ends of the spectrum – the avant-garde on the one extreme and the nostalgic on the other.
Suddenly Neil Diamond has a newfound following. The man is 67 years old, and out of nowhere he tops the CD sales in the UK and the USA (despite being huge in the ’60s and ’70s, he had never before topped the album charts in the USA).
It’s bizarre. But nostalgia is a trend not only evident in music. We see it across the media spectrum. Another area where it’s very apparent is in movies. And movies tend to be at the edge of what’s fashionable and driving “the cool” for consumer trendoids.
When I was a kid, in the days of “Squad cars” and “No place to hide” (radio serials for those who have no idea what I’m talking about), my reading preference was for comics. And comics had a sort of “evil aura” attached to them for some reason. My folks would confi scate them (in those days, asking “why?” would result in a clip around the ear!) and teachers – in fact, all adults – would scorn and deride them.
Today, they’re cinema’s preoccupation. Superman was quickly followed by a flock of Batman films and Spiderman has produced three full-length movies – not bad for half an insect! The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man have emerged from obscurity. And they’re big business. Iron Man is exploiting the marketability of nostalgia to the hilt.
There will be 275 toys launched around the character, and almost 1,500 merchandise promotions – from T-shirts, cereal giveaways and underwear, to limited edition busts and video games. And to make sure that the consumer falls in love with our superhero, and to guarantee the estimated $100-million the studio can expect in royalties from the successful movie’s merchandise, the movie is packed with star appeal – the likes of Robert Downey Jnr, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges.
Even TV can’t escape the web of nostalgia. “Law and Order” has been gracing the tube since 1990 – a total of 18 years. And it’s not reaching the end of its run by any means. In fact, it’s so successful that it has what is called its own “franchise” – two other shows, based on exactly the same formula, but with different casts.
And what about “The Simpsons” – conceived in 1987, it’s in its 20!_LT_supth!_LT_/sup season. Homer, who must have been 35 when it started, is effectively of pensionable age!
And if you think South Africa is immune to these worldwide waves of nostalgia or the tried and tested, tell me how else “Carte Blanche” and “Egoli” have managed to be around for more than 15 years.
From a communication perspective, and a marketing viewpoint, being at the cutting edge is highly desirable. To achieve this, all one needs to be able to do is to predict the next hot “call-back-the-past” button. Come to think of it, making such a prediction is impossible. I mean, c’mon, Neil Diamond?
Harry Herber is the group managing director at The MediaShop.
- This column first appeared in The Media magazine (September 2008).