In a previous post, I argued in favor of Generational Marketing — an approach to brand development that connects products and services to generational nostalgia, merging past with present.
This approach to building brand identity and product awareness has critics. Some believe nostalgia borrows too much attention away from a product: we get caught up in an ad’s nostalgic moments and then ignore or forget the product being promoted. Some insist that nostalgia is focused on the past, and Boomers today are looking ahead: past experiences divert thinking to bygone life chapters that have been read, closed and preferentially forgotten.
My arguments about the efficacy of Generational Marketing in this blog and in my most recent book, Generation Reinvention, are based on social science research and sociological theory. This line of reasoning appeals to critical thinking but possibly does not drive my points home with emotional clarity. In this post I am sharing a few visceral experiences of the past. Consider an advertisement for Coca Cola:
For movie fans among you, does the setting appear vaguely familiar? This portrayal of a nighttime cityscape has not yet happened but rather it is a glimpse into the future: November 2019, to be exact. But wait! The image actually became part of cultural history in 1982 through a Stanley Kubrick movie entitled Blade Runner. And in May 2011 a striking manifestation of this memorable movie moment then emerged through a powerful new art form.
So, is this cinematic moment an image of the past, present or future? Could the power of generationally shared nostalgia give consumers another memorable brand impression, increasing awareness of and consideration for Coca Cola?
Artist Gustaf Mantel has created an extraordinary series of animated GIFs that brings new resonance and emotional endurance to cultural history. Called cinemagraphs, these subtle animations merge the powerful selectivity of still photography with video to portray “something more than a photo but less than a video.”
Now, let me ask you if this copy seems familiar: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” If this statement does not strike a responsive chord, perhaps Mantel's GIF will transport you back to an eerie moment 31 years ago:
What if a contemporary marketer for a brand of blue jeans integrated this memorable image of Jack Nicholson in The Shining with a product message aimed at Boomers — something about the iconic comfort of chic casual blue jeans? Or what might a tennis ball marketer do with such a moving and memorable vignette?
Generational nostalgia can be captured in many ways, especially when marketers merge the newest technologies with shared experiences and an art form that gives new meaning to hard-wired memories.
If a marketer wants to stir up anti-authoritarian feelings in a generation — the sense of being outcast for superficial reasons such as looking old in a youth-oriented society — the marketer might resurrect dialogue from another classic movie: “Hey, man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut.”
And then the marketer shares this visual reminder of what it felt like to be dismissed during youth for arbitrary reasons:
In a direct mail campaign my team created for Orange Glo International and its OxiClean brand, we transformed a photographic image with nostalgic appeal into a brochure cover — tapping a memory buried in the psyche of almost any Boomer who in childhood took a lingering bubble bath while playing with a favorite toy:
With cinemagraphic technology, we could have expressed our idea in another, perhaps even more memorable way:
“When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.” The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Some viewers looking at these moving images will see merely photographs enhanced by motion-capture technology, perhaps experiencing some charming interpretations of bygone times. I see something more. I see potential for product marketers —particularly those employing online media channels — to reach the hearts and minds of a generation with nostalgic moments reinterpreted for contemporary times and products.
This may not have been the primary intention of artist Gustaf Mantel, but his new art form has thought worthy implications for marketers trying to create brand impressions in a much cluttered online world: