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Selling With Nostalgia, Post-Boomer

Nostalgia, according to the saying, isn’t what it used to be. That is increasingly true on Madison Avenue, as advertisers — seeking to evoke warm feelings and fond memories in consumers — adjust the timelines for how far they look back.

For many years, the primary goal was to appeal to the huge baby boomer market of Americans born from 1946 through 1964. So nostalgic ads revived the music, movies, television series and other elements of popular culture from the 1950s and ’60s. Now that boomers are no longer part of the demographic group that most appeals to advertisers, ages 18 to 49, nostalgic ads are bringing back the pop culture trappings of the 1970s and ’80s — and, more often, the ’90s.

That is not to say that the ’50s and ’60s are being ignored. Last week, for instance, Apple introduced a commercial that features a song, “Chicken Fat,” commissioned for the presidential fitness program during the administration of John F. Kennedy. And a new Yoplait yogurt commercial uses a Kinks song, “All Day and All of the Night,” from 1964.

But other Yoplait spots use more recent songs, like “I Love a Rainy Night,” from 1980, and “Hungry Like the Wolf,” from 1982. And a new commercial for the Nissan Sentra features the Billy Idol version of “Mony Mony” from 1987, rather than the original version by Tommy James and the Shondells from 1968.

For a campaign being introduced on Tuesday, AutoTrader.com is also opting for a more recent time reference, invoking the popular series “The Dukes of Hazzard,” which originally ran on television from 1979 through 1985. “We did a huge amount of testing,” said John Kovac, senior vice president for marketing at Cox Automotive, the division of Cox Enterprises that operates AutoTrader.com, and “the generations that grew up on the show” found the campaign engaging.

At the heart of the campaign are four commercials; three are 30 seconds long and the fourth runs two minutes and 12 seconds. In the commercials, the cousins Bo and Luke Duke — portrayed, as they were on the show, by the actors John Schneider and Tom Wopat — are reunited in 2014 and searching for a car to replace their orange 1969 Dodge Charger known as the General Lee. They use the autotrader.com website on mobile devices and find a newer Dodge, a 2013 SRT Viper, which they have repainted in orange.

“The idea of the show and AutoTrader.com melded together,” said Brad Emmett, executive creative director at Doner in Southfield, Mich., a unit of MDC Partners that creates campaigns for AutoTrader.com. “Bo and Luke spend about 90 percent of their time in that car.”

Another pop culture pair is being reunited this month in a different example of the trend: the American Olympic decathletes Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson. The two became famous, then notorious, for a Reebok campaign that invited Americans to watch them compete against each other at the 1992 Summer Games for the gold medal that would determine which was “the world’s greatest athlete.”

Alas, the “Dan and Dave” campaign ran aground — much to the dismay of Reebok and its agency at the time, Chiat/Day/Mojo — after Mr. O’Brien unexpectedly failed to qualify for the Olympic team and Mr. Johnson won a bronze medal. (Mr. O’Brien won the gold medal for the decathlon at the 1996 Summer Olympics.)

Twenty-two years later, Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Johnson are to compete against each other as guests at the RBC Decathlon, an annual event for men and women in financial services that raises money for pediatric oncology research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It is scheduled to take place on June 22 at St. John’s University’s DaSilva Memorial Field in Queens.

“Dan O’Brien participated last year, and after the meet it was mentioned in passing how cool it would be to bring Dave in,” said Dave Maloney, executive producer of the RBC Decathlon. “Dan agreed, and reached out to Dave.”

“As long as you’re over the age of, call it 30, yes, everybody remembers ‘Dan and Dave,’ ” Mr. Maloney said. “To me, as an older track and field athlete, it’s — how do I put it? — satisfying that some aspect of track and field remains embedded in the memory of the public.”

A section of the RBC Decathlon website is accepting donations in the form of bets on the outcome of the matchup. “Right now, the money’s on Dave,” Mr. Maloney said, laughing, “but it’s still early.”

The Nestea line of teas sold by Nestlé is following the move to modernization in a revival of its theme “Take the Nestea plunge,” which was used from the ’70s into the ’90s. Reflecting the times, there are now ads online and in social media in addition to commercials and print ads. The creative agency is Publicis Hawkeye, part of the Publicis Groupe.

There are additional instances of ’90s nostalgia trips playing out in television programming, among them “Mystery Girls,” a series on the ABC Family cable channel that will reunite two cast members of “Beverly Hills, 90210,” Jennie Garth and Tori Spelling, and specials on channels like CNN and Investigation Discovery marking the 20th anniversary of the O. J. Simpson trial.

For those seeking even more contemporary versions of nostalgia, next Tuesday VH1 plans to present a series titled “I Love the 2000s.”

 

Stuart Elliott, The New York Times. June 9, 2014

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