Blasts from the past: How brands can use legacy advertising to attract new fans

Tapping into late 80’s and 90’s pop culture can be a successful strategy to create multi-generational engagement.
01 December 2022
Retro TV
Ryan Crooker

Vice President, Insights Division, Canada

Get in touch

The last movie I went to before the pandemic started was Sonic the Hedgehog. I went with my six-year-old son, and our reasons for wanting to see it were different. I had grown up in the 90’s playing Sonic video games on my Sega, while my son knew Sonic mainly through the Sonic Boom cartoon. Fast forward two years, and the first movie we saw together in a theater after the pandemic was Sonic 2 in April 2022. Wow, time really flew.

During the pandemic my son and I started spending even more time together (for better or worse) and after we enjoyed almost all the current shows he watches, we went into the way back machine courtesy of a plethora of streaming services. All of a sudden, we were watching Rocko’s Modern Life, Dark Wing Duck, the Space Jam movies, and now most recently the Chip and Dale reboot, which is a treasure trove of old school Easter eggs.

Then, it happened. We ran into Dunakroos at the grocery store. We even saw them in the flyers positioned as a 90’s snack blast from the past. While my wife would not have approved, I, of course, had to buy them. We also came home with both Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles because I ate them as a kid and wanted to try them with my son.

A number of other snacks from the past returned during the pandemic too: Doritos 3D Crunch, Waffle Crisp cereal, Crème Savers hard candy, and Oreo Cakesters, to name a few.

It became apparent over the pandemic that the lines between the kid and adult worlds have blurred and blended more together more than ever before. For those who spent their childhoods in the 80’s and 90’s, everything continues to come full circle with Top Gun: Maverick, a recent box office smash, and Axel Foley in Beverley Hills Cop 4, coming soon to Netflix.

Tapping into late 80’s and 90’s pop culture has become a successful way to reach older millennials who now have children of their own. Parents get to share childhood favorites with their kids, while kids get the sheer excitement of trying something new with mom and dad. The experience can even bring in a third generation as boomer grandparents say, “I remember you watching that show when you were little” or “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe you still eat those.”

There are a variety of brands across industries with a bounty of assets from the past, some likely long forgotten. Not just mascots, vintage packaging, or catchy jingles, but iconic commercials and campaigns as well. A great ad is still a great ad. Wendy’s recent launch into the competitive breakfast space with its “Where’s the Bacon?” campaign pays homage to the brand’s iconic 1980’s “Where’s the Beef?” ads. Hollywood has a proven track record of successful reboots, and brands can take a page out of their book by bringing back iconic ads. It even makes me wonder as fingers linger over skip buttons, could using actual ads from the 90’s get our target audiences to stop and look just a few seconds longer?

The pandemic has felt long and drawn out as many people have likely paused and reflected during the last two years. Likewise, some brands may benefit from reflecting on how they got to be what they are, and if there is something from the past that could help them take that next step forward.

Legacy brands that are meaningful and salient have proven their strength, but differentiation is key to boost growth in the long-term, and prevent new upstarts from gaining an advantage. Discover Kantar's BrandZ Most Valuable Canadian Brands 2022 to see who made the list. To understand how you can tap into your existing assets or find partnerships that make sense, reach out to learn more.

Want more like this?

Read: Canada's most valuable brands bounce back

Get in touch
Related solutions
Strong brands provide value for businesses and shareholders. Supercharge growth with the world's largest equity platform.
We provide ROI data to marketing, insights, finance, and strategy professionals, to support commercial decision-making.
Get the insights you need, when you need them, so you can make better faster decisions to grow your brand.