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10 wonderfully nostalgic digital campaigns

10 wonderfully nostalgic digital campaigns Chloe Della Costa

Selling the good old days

It's no secret that nostalgia sells. Retro marketing can be spotted at almost any store. Pepsi Throwback, Doritos, Tide, and Miracle Whip are all good examples of products that have tapped into their pasts to drive current sales. We also see it with cars, cameras, and electronics. In particular, consumers like the simplicity of old-style packaging. Many recognize it from their past, while younger consumers recognize it as retro and, thus, trendy.

This blend of old and new can be found everywhere. In today's digital world, we have apps like Instagram and Postagram, which incorporate retro elements. You can even find a USB typewriter for your iPad. We take Polaroids and upload them to Facebook. We play Atari arcade games on our smartphones.

You would think that retro marketing would be a method better executed in traditional and print media. But these tactics are winning online as well, where nostalgia is infinitely shareable. In 2009, YourTango produced an award-winning retro-style video called "Facebook Manners and You," and in 2010 a Brazilian ad agency made a series of throwback social media posters, including this one for Facebook:

People love to share these kinds of assets online. So what exactly are brands doing to tap into the nostalgia factor? In this article, we'll take a look at four ways brands are using nostalgia and retro elements to market their products online. Do any of these tactics make sense for your own marketing efforts?

Old products revived

One way to market using nostalgia is to simply bring back a product from the past. Often, products are brought back for a limited time, making them seem exclusive and special. But if it is profitable, brands might even revive old products permanently. Giving these products a modern spin via digital media can make their appeal go even further.


Pepsi Throwback is a classic example of retro marketing. In addition to its old-school packaging, the product itself is sweetened with real sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup (as in the good old days). Pepsi Throwback has been released off and on since 2009, and in March 2011, PepsiCo announced that both Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback would become permanent additions to the Pepsi and Mountain Dew product lines.

You've likely heard of Pepsi Throwback. But have you visited its Facebook page? Pepsi took its marketing strategy online with an interactive Facebook page featuring an Atari arcade game that is also a competition to win weekly and monthly prizes. Fans can vote on the page for which Atari game they want to see brought back for the next competition. The page has 207,296 fans, and there is always plenty of activity on the brand's wall. Nostalgia-filled status updates like "Quit playing games with my heart" and "Click LIKE if you're excited for the revival of Beavis and Butt-Head. We are!" are well-received among Pepsi Throwback's fans.


Cadbury's Wispa bar from the 1980s was brought back when a host of online fan campaigns and petitions gained momentum in 2007. "Bring Back Wispa" groups popped up on Facebook and MySpace, and, during Iggy and the Stooges' 2007 performance at the Glastonbury Festival, several Wispa fans invaded the stage armed with a banner saying "Bring Back the Wispa."

Cadbury initially revived the candy bar for limited release. Then, in 2008, it was brought back permanently. In an impressive campaign, Cadbury called on its loyal fans to collaborate in making a two-minute commercial dedicated to the return of Wispa:

Today, the candy bar continues to have a cult-like internet following. Cadbury Wispa still has an incredibly active Facebook page with more than 1.7 million fans. A similar Facebook campaign brought back Wispa Gold for a limited time -- and then permanently, just like its sister candy bar. For more on Wispa, go to ForTheLoveofWispa.com.

Old products revived, continued


Volkswagen Netherlands recently finished a campaign for the Fanwagen, a car built by Facebook fans. As a part of the contest, VW brought back one of its iconic models from the past, and one lucky Facebook fan won the car. The Fanwagen is equipped with social media features, including a license plate that shows your relationship status and the ability to print your newsfeed off the dashboard, making it what VW calls "the most social car ever."

During the contest, fans voted on the brand's Facebook page for the classic vehicle they liked best, the Beetle or the T1 Van. (The van won.) Then fans (provided they had a Dutch driver's license) could enter to win a Fanwagen of their very own.


For summer 2011, Reebok rolled out its Reebok Lite line, which it describes as a blend of its 1980s-era classics and the latest cutting-edge technology. And along with it, Reebok launched a multichannel marketing campaign involving both broadcast television and online advertising.

The new "Reethym of Lite" campaign is all about contemporary urban club culture, but the shoes themselves are classic '80s. The line includes the Freestyle, the Ex-O-Fit high top, the Classic Leather Runner, and the Workout Low Plus. They are even sold in the original Union Jack box, which was faithfully remade, down to the '80s typography. Ads ran on Hulu, YouTube, MTV.com, Pandora, Complex, Facebook, BET.com, VEVO, and Twitter.

Old campaigns revived

Some old favorites never die. The Energizer Bunny and Mr. Peanut are classic examples we all know and love. They keep going and going. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.) But beloved campaigns of the past can also be brought back from the dead, and with great impact, by making customers exclaim, "Oh yeah! I remember that!"


In September 2011, Wendy's revived the classic "Where's the beef?" slogan that became a national catchphrase after the iconic commercial aired in 1984.

Snippets of the commercial, in which Clara Peller famously exclaimed, "Where's the beef?" ran on television and on WheresTheBeef.com. While the campaign was in full swing, it was also surrounded by significant social media activity.

In addition to re-running clips of this classic commercial, two new TV spots ran. The New York Times posted one spot, in which the actual Wendy Thomas, daughter of Dave, says of the burgers: "These would've made Dad say, 'Here's the beef!'" In another spot, actor Reid Ewing of "Modern Family" wears a vintage "Where's the beef?" T-shirt around town, initially unaware of the reference.


Last year, the Noid -- the pesky character from the Domino's commercials of the 1980s -- was brought back for one week to celebrate his 25th birthday. Domino's launched a campaign on its Facebook page, and the Noid made a brief appearance at the end of a commercial promoting a one-topping pizza deal. Watch closely:

The Noid's birthday was also celebrated with an arcade game on the Facebook page, "The Noid's Super Pizza Shootout," a homage to "Avoid the Noid." Domino's gave away free pizza in the form of $10 gift cards to the top scorers.

Retro-style campaigns

Certain campaigns are not about resurrecting anything specific from the past, but they employ a retro look and feel to appeal to our senses of nostalgia all the same. Here are a few examples of brands that have successfully done so.


LinkedIn went retro last year with an old-school video series. LinkedIn's training videos are reminiscent of kitschy 1970s instructional videos, and the feature page also boasts a distinct vintage feel complete with wood paneling, piles of old film reels, and old-school headphones. The series includes six episodes that teach users how to get the most out of LinkedIn, from the basics like "You and Your Company," to more specific insights in "You and Your Funding."


The 2009 Brazilian campaign "Kama Sutra Do Beijo" by Mentos Power Kiss is retro and fun, albeit a little strange. The YouTube channel requires you to verify that you are over 18 years of age to see the four- to five-second clips of different types of kisses. In the introductory video, a Spanish-speaking '80s girl introduces Kama Sutra Do Beijo and demonstrates several kissing techniques.

The videos have a distinct VHS style that is fun, and the campaign was extended through the brand's website, where you could view video lessons and also buy the VHS for $3.50 with a package of Mentos Power Kiss.


McDonald's recently gave away throwback replica Coke glasses and launched a retro-style photo app as part of a campaign to celebrate Coca-Cola's 125th anniversary. The McDonald's Flashback Booth picks the six most memorable moments from your Facebook photos and retro-styles them, each with the vintage look of a different year between 1899 to 1994. The six designs of the Coke glasses match the six bygone-era photo styles.

Using the old to encourage the new

Retro marketing is sometimes criticized for its dependence on the past or for lacking creativity or originality. But there are countless ways to employ nostalgia while also being modern and innovative.


Cars are certainly as guilty as any product category in their attempts to appeal to our senses of nostalgia (e.g., the Mini Cooper, the New Beetle, and Fiat 500). But in 2010, the French car company Citroen did something a little different. The company launched 30-second spots featuring interviews with John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe, in which the icons encourage us to "do something of your own" rather than constantly look to the past for inspiration. The irony of the ads is that they essentially employed the retro as a means to be anti-retro.

While these obviously dubbed "interviews" could arguably be considered a bit insulting to the memories of Lennon and Monroe, the marketing concept is a smart one. It was a small campaign, but it is a worthwhile message: Be original. Don't use the past as a crutch.

From a marketing standpoint, simply reviving the past is not enough. There must be innovation. Cadbury revived its Wispa bar, but the innovation behind the campaign was seen in how the company engaged with its fans online.

Nostalgia allows people to look back fondly, and when used wisely, it can also create excitement for what's coming next.

Chloe Della Costa is an editor at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Ya-hoo! Mountain Dew" image and "Pepsi Throwback is Back!" image via Flickr. "Background with circles" image and "Retro Background with Copy Space" image via Shutterstock.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Jim Nichols

2012, February 29

Really thought provoking observations and insights, Chloe. I like the way you leveled up the "news" of nostaglia into strategic findings!