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Amid tough times, advertising looks back

By July 25, 2008 6 Comments

It is a sociological fact that when times are tough, people turn to the past—to what they know—for comfort. With protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a subprime mortgage crisis, the highest gas prices in history, and a looming recession—there’s no question times are tough.

So, it should come as no surprise that recent advertising is taking us away from the present and into our cultural and advertising past.

A few examples:

“Max,” a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle, is the spokesperson of the auto maker’s recent ad campaign.

JCPenney’s back-to-school ad is paying homage to The Breakfast Club, a teen movie from 1985.


View this video on YouTube

McDonalds has dusted off 1974’s Big Mac slogan, two-all-beef-patties special-sauce lettuce-cheese pickles-onions on-a-sesame-seed-bun and held a Big Mac Chant-Off on MySpace.

Here’s the winning chant by Jason Harper:

[audio:http://lp.mydas.mobi/custom/bigmac/bigmac.mp3]

The overwhelming success of AMC’s Mad Men last year may have been a bellwether for this emerging trend.

Mark my words: We’ll see more advertising reminiscent of cultural icons and campaigns from the past in the coming months.

Have you seen advertising that’s looking back?

Comment below to share.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • As I read this blog entry, M&M’s ad on TV featuring M&M’s as the characters from the Addam’s Family.

  • Haven’t seen looking back in our print yet Patrick, but businesses are realizing that they need to advertise a lot more and it’s nice to be able to fill the need both online and in print.

  • Christine says:

    This must mean I’m a die-hard Breakfast Club fan, because I was thoroughly disappointed when I saw that commercial. It was the sloppiest copy I’ve seen to date.

    I would like to add here that while I agree with you in that we look back when we need comfort, I think we are also looking back “for better examples to model after.”

    The consumption we have engaged in since the 80s gave us the “success = more money and bigger toys” vision to aspire to. Now, we look back to the 50s style of consumption, which was a liberating activity coming out of WW2 and the Depression.

    There is a big difference between economic stimulation, economic liberation (making one’s life easier) and economic gluttony. These brands represent some of that early kind of spending.

  • […] tough, people turn to the past—to what they know—for comfort,” writes Patrick Byers in a post at the Responsible Marketing blog. “So, it should come as no surprise that recent advertising […]

  • Frank-ly Confused says:

    To be honest, I was confused with the JCPenny ad. Is it directed at teens or their parents? It was for their back-to-school clothing for kids that would have no idea what the ad was about. Therefore my thoughts were it was meant for their parents… Sounds like an idea bourne from an agency that presented it to a bunch of late 30, early 40-somethings that fell for it, but never had any real focus on what they were trying to do… kind of like my comment.

  • C Nolte says:

    I must be just a little older and didn’t “get into” The Breakfast Club. However, I did know that they were attempting to use that as their base. To be perfectly honest (now showing my age) I was disgusted with the ad. To me it portrayed students with no respect for education and made me hope that kids don’t see it and get ideas about inappropriate behavior in the educational setting. (I know I’m being an old fogey! I also understand that having the kids in uniforms ((which JCP also sells)) would not necessarily equate to appropriate behavior either.)

    I have enjoyed thd VW ads. And, speaking of ads, I got quite a chuckle over the recent ad with the sumo wrestlers becoming an airplane. Thanks!

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