Everything old is new again. We've got another George Bush in the White House, O.J. was arrested a second time and Josie and the Pussycats are about to make their screen debut. And advertising, which prides itself on being ahead of the curve, has contributed its own retro imagery to our cultural landscape.
Most recently, Pepsi-Cola dusted off its 10-year-old "Two Kids" spot starring Cindy Crawford and aired it during the postgame wrapup of this year's Super Bowl.
"Two Kids" was voted in by Web surfers via an online promotional contest hosted by Yahoo! in conjunction with Pepsi. It was one of five older commercials vying for the coveted Super Bowl air time.
Other contenders included "Apartment 10G," which first aired in 1987 and featured former Spin City star Michael J. Fox. But Pepsi also launched new spots to hype its product during the game. So why bring back retreads?
Calling the ad a "one-time payoff" commemorating Pepsi's 15 years of Super Bowl advertising, Jeff Mordos, chief operating officer for BBDO New York, insists his client wasn't playing the nostalgia card.
"It was designed to take advantage of the excitement around the game," Mordos says. "Other advertisers are just dipping into their old bag of tricks, and hoping it will work today based on past success."
While acknowledging the marketer's credo—baby boomers love to see old spots that remind them of their childhood—Dave Burwick, vp of marketing for Pepsi, maintains "Two Kids" simply reflected Pepsi's brand positioning: "being all about choice. Giving consumers their choice in what they want to see on the air reinforces what the brand is about."
But Burwick does have a theory about the growing number of old ads hitting the airwaves, including Coke's famous 1971 "Hilltop" (best known for the jingle "I'd like to teach the world to sing") and the original 1972 Life cereal "Mikey" spot featuring the tough-to-feed toddler. He cites the 5-to-20-year-old "echo boomers" as ample incentive for advertisers to employvintage commercials.
"They're the kids of baby boomers, and their taste is connecting with their parents," he says. That's in contrast to Gen X-ers, "who rebelled against their parents and had very different tastes in brands," explains Burwick. "Something that works for baby boomers will work for echo boomers—if you do it right."
Mordos concurs, pointing out that the decision to re-air these chestnuts is often made by baby boomers themselves. "They'll say, 'Well, if they worked for our generation, they'll work for this one, since we listen to the same kind of music and share a lot of the same interests.' "
Cathy Israelevitz, senior vp, senior account director on Pepsi at BBDO, points to its Mountain Dew execution last year that featured Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," noting it appealed to consumers who grew up on the song and younger consumers who recognized it from Wayne's World and love the parody. "We've found that music and other icons of the past have multigenerational crossover appeal," she says.
Others see a more elementary reason behind the success of older ads. Graham Woodall, evp, ecd at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles in New York, says, "In terms of a comfort zone for clients, the fear of getting it wrong nowadays is offset by doing something new." He points to dot-com failures as evidence that the cutting edge has its limitations.
"We are going into a flatter time for the economy. That always breeds conservatism when it comes to creativity," Woodall notes.
Woodall does, however, see benefits to airing ad icons that haven't left the public consciousness. His agency conceived the Charmin toilet-paper campaign last year, bringing back the original "Mr. Whipple," Dick Wilson, who is now in his mid-80s. Woodall says D'Arcy seized on the "folklorish" quality of the stern grocer along with his famous request: "Please don't squeeze the Charmin."
"People never stopped thinking about him or liking him," he says of Wilson's beloved portrayal. Woodall says the ads, which aired over a period of 18 months, resulted in an onslaught of e-mails and letters indicating a great fondness for the character.
"In this category," adds Woodall, "which is a really low-interest category, it was a very good way to elevate the brand's image and presence." It also helped profits. Woodall wouldn't site specific numbers, but noted that sales increased as a result of the campaign.
Like Mr. Whipple, Life's quaint Mikey ad has endured, thanks to its intimate, low-tech appeal. The original Mikey ad, which aired for 12 years, also ran in the third and fourth quarter of last year. Hart Weichselbaum, director of account planning at FCB in Chicago, cites Mikey as an example of spots that "work on their own terms, just because they're timeless. People had a warm feeling about Mikey, and it's still relevant today."
Two other popular ad figures to resurface of late include the Jolly Green Giant and Starkist's Charlie the Tuna.
Why is Charlie so compelling? Larry Jones, evp, general manager for the TV Land cable channel, which targets the 25-54-year-old demo, has a theory.
"Your whole youth was tied up in seeing this fish that had serious attitude. You bonded with him years ago, and now you bond with him again," Jones says. His channel, which has included classic commercials or "Retromercials," since TV Land began airing five years ago, currently shows one vintage spot per hour.
"In our research, we find that people love the Retromercials, and view them as part of our programming," says Jones, citing Alka Seltzer's 1972 "Pop, pop, fizz, fizz" as one of the most requested. "It's something that's totally unique in their TV experience," he adds. "Seeing Charlie the Tuna as a baby boomer is really a cool thing."
But cool doesn't always translate into profits, warns Weichselbaum, cautioning there needs to be a larger strategic purpose behind airing dated commercials.
"Obviously, we had great success reprising the Mikey spot, but I think you've got to be careful because times change and people change," he says. "Have you ever seen an old friend from the past, and the feeling is just not the same? They're not as great as you remembered them."
He's also quick to make a distinction between the warm-and-fuzzy nostalgia of "Mikey" and ads that resonate as unadulterated camp classics, such as the recent re-appearance of Jordache's "Twirly Girl." The late-'70s spot features the same snugly clad disco-dancing diva who made you worry whether you had "The Look."
"The meaning of that spot has morphed over time," says Weichselbaum. "Now we can look at it and say, 'Boy, isn't that campy?' But it's also strangely relevant in an ironic sort of way because bell-bottoms and platform shoes are back." The ad, which began airing last October, is currently showing exclusively during the tempestuous TV show Temptation Island.
How did Jordache avoid falling flat on its jeans-strangled derriere? By re-airing the pristine original and not attempting to recreate the 1970s, says Michael Riego, svp of advertising at Jordache. It's a strategy, he says, that contrasts with today's fast cuts and special effects.
More telling, he reports that stores in the Northeast and Southeast have sold out their Jordache jean inventory, notably to girls in their late teens and early 20s. In fact, Jordache is so pleased with the response it's considering releasing another '70s spot in April.
Burwick sees it as a prime example of plying the echo-boomer marketing ploy.
"They're certainly getting the moms who bought Jordache jeans 15-20 years ago," he says. "And they're probably getting the 35-year-old mom's 10-year-old."
Riego admits nostalgia is the commercial's biggest draw.
"When you mention the jingle now," he says, "people start singing along. And they always grin when they tell you how they had to lay down on their bed and pull up the zipper of their jeans with a hanger." Index Stock/Picture Quest