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The Nostalgia Market in Entertainment: Our Ever-Present Obsession with the 1970s-80s

July 3, 2018

 

           It’s no secret that we live in troubled times. Whether the world is more conflicted, or we simply have more access to the ability to be aware of conflict due to global internet and news resources, the effect is the same: everybody I know currently approaches the world from a negative bias. Put simply, we all seem to default to expecting the worst. Given this, it makes sense that people, especially millennials who seem apt to feel disenfranchised with the hand fate has dealt them in the world they are inheriting, are looking back to supposed 'simpler times' as a resource of solace and comfort.

          To this end, 'nostalgia marketing' has hit the industry in full force – if you simply search the term in Google right now, you will get a slew of articles originated by sources ranging from random blogs to Forbes that list nostalgia marketing as the newest trend in marketing success. But what is nostalgia marketing? Simply put, it is Stranger Things. It is The Nice Guys, and it is Riverdale. It is every piece of media that preys on the part of your brain that vaguely remembers E.T. and slaps your nostalgia with Coca Cola and Abercrombie&Fitch ads directed at vague memories of a time when everything was simpler and not everybody hated each other all the time (or if they did, you at least didn't notice it quite as much).

          Nostalgia marketing is trademarked by our blind trust in the past, and our desperation to believe in the existence of 'the good old days,' an arguably non-existent time-period in which things supposedly made sense. It is characterized by a retro aesthetic that rides bikes 'back when kids could go outside' and wears silly outfits that are somehow once again showing up on fashion runways in 2017 (looking at you, shoulder pads). Nostalgia marketing is a refuge for both millennials and older generations who want a reprieve from modern life and politics, an opportunity to feel simple. It also just happens to be one of the largest marketing schemes of the past few years, and one that presents a unique challenge to young writers at that. Young writers interested in the movement are forced to write about a time period they did not live through first hand. Older writers are forced to write about this time period in a way that both satisfies older readers who lived through it, and also hooks millennial and younger readers who may have only experienced the 1970s and 80s second-hand through their parents’ media. Moreover, nostalgia marketing has provided a revitalization of the retro-horror and sci-fi as genres, creating new opportunities for writers interested in those movements.

 

Nostalgia marketing is an interesting phenomenon. Interesting, because it has undoubtedly been around for quite some time. For instance, look at the late 1970s and early 1980s, when films such as Grease made desperate callbacks to the 1950s in an incredibly successful attempt to capture audiences and ticket sales. What is unique about nostalgia marketing is that it seems to be experiencing a dramatic resurgence in the present day with regards to the mid 1970s up to the 1980s, and is only now being defined as a notable movement in marketing or as a resurgent cultural trend. 

 

            Nostalgia in and of itself is an easy enough concept to grasp. The term 'rose colored glasses' is in full force with nostalgia marketing, which necessarily romanticizes the past. Objectively, the 1970s and the 1980s weren’t really a better time period in America than any other. There were some groundbreaking civil rights movements, true. The Blockbuster took form and assailed the film industry in full force in the form of movies such as E.T, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Blade Runner, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, and Terminator. Hippy culture saw its rise and subsequent downfall. There were also plenty of hard negatives to the time period. The afore-mentioned civil rights movements struggled to gain ground as schools desegregated racially and then were re-segregated financially, and economic inequality across financial classes continued to grow. The cold war saw American political knowledge dumbed down, and innocent people persecuted in red-scare witch-hunts. In essence, the time period that is currently so romanticized was not especially pure or innocent. It had its ups and downs, just like any other period of time. 

 

Why, then, are we so obsessed with reliving a romanticized version of this time period? Moreover, why is nostalgia marketing proving to be especially successful with millennials, many of whom were not even alive to actually experience the time period that so much modern media relives and romanticizes? I would argue that several factors play a role. 

 

            Firstly, the fact that many consumers of 80s themed nostalgia marketing were not even born during the 80s may help, not hinder, nostalgia marketing. The fact that millennials who consume nostalgia marketed media were not of age during the time period may mean that they have less negative association with the 1970s and 80s, and as such are more receptive to positive depictions of that era as they lack the historical knowledge necessary to scrutinize nostalgia marketed products. 

 

            Moreover, while many millennials may not have been around to experience first-hand the 70s and 80s, their parents most certainly were, and most certainly did. Importantly, the creators of much nostalgia marketed media were also of age during the 70s and 80s. This means that millennials are experiencing shows that call-back to and reference older movies, shows, products, or aesthetics that their parents likely introduced them to, causing them to associate nostalgia marketed media and products with happy childhood memories. It also gives older audiences something familiar to latch onto and bond with their aging children and associates over, providing a cultural trend that may actually be conducive to societal bonding across generations. 

 

            Nostalgia marketed media presents a unique challenge for writers, as was mentioned earlier in this article. They must depict a version of a time period that is incongruent with actual history, but relatable and nostalgic both to people who were alive during that time period, as well as to people who grew up hearing about that time period. They must faithfully represent a historical era, and also mask it with a romantic façade in order to make it a product to be consumed. In this vein, we are beginning to see more and more explorations of some of the negatives of the “nostalgia marketing era” in depictions of the 70s-80s that do not shy away from the negative aspects of the time period. The Nice Guys, a recent movie by Shane Black, explores both the positives and negatives of the era while operating under the guise of a black comedy, for example. As for some of the major works in the nostalgia market that have sprung up recently, we need look no farther than:

 

Stranger Things

  Perhaps the most obvious example of nostalgia marketing, Stranger Thingsprovides a retro-inspired take on classic 80s sci-fi horror that made it an instant hit with old and young audiences alike. The love child of an inspired one night stand between 80s sci-fi feel-goods such as E.T. and horror projects such as The Thing, Stranger Things indelibly captures an era. With immaculately detailed sets and wonderfully styled writing, it stands as the current peak of nostalgia marketing.

 

Blade Runner 2049

 

Although Blade Runner 2049 is far from the only 80s themed revival piece (I’m looking at you, Ghostbusters and every late not-so-great Terminator and Alien movie), it is one of the few such revival projects that has garnered immense critical praise. By using 80s color palettes in absolutely inspiring conjecture with  modern filmmaking technology, and providing revamped writing to an old sci-fi staple, Blade Runner 2049 is here to prove that the 80s resurgence is far from over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

Hello again, Star Wars. Although Star Wars had a shot at revival with the infamously hated prequels, J.J. Abrams revamped Star Wars to be a part of the nostalgia marketing movement, and in doing so gave it the same revival that he (for better or for worse) gave the Star Trek franchise in 2009. This revival was perhaps the most impactful for writing, as the year after Star Wars: the Force Awakens came out, book publisher Orbit Books signed on a rather astounding ninety sci-fi novels for publishing in 2016. In what is sometimes monikered the “Star Wars Effect,” the revival of this 80s blockbuster classic is credited with single-handedly reviving an entire genre of writing, although afore-mentioned products such as Star Trek and currently releasing projects such as Blade Runner 2049 certainly do their part in revitalizing sci-fi genre into a highly marketable genre.

 

 

The Nice Guys

 

With The Nice Guys, Shane Black showed us that not every nostalgia marketed 70s or 80s themed piece of media production has to be over-romanticized schlock. With brilliant writing that features an understated sense of black humor, and a underlying critique of many of the issues the late 70s/early 80s had, The Nice Guys may just represent a new trend in nostalgia marketing, in which flaws of the era are presented next to the kitschy romanticism every piece of nostalgia marketing seems to bring along with itself.

 

Riverdale

 

Who doesn’t remember reading Archie comics in line at the grocery store? Archie comics have always, at least to me, been the most easily identifiable source of nostalgia marketing. And yet, they never lose their charm, playing on the romanticism of the 80s and 90s like a concert violinist on top form. Riverdale, the 2016/17 “gritty” update that sees Archie translated to the realm of TV serials, is nostalgia marketing dialed up to 11, and further evidence of the fact that the trend of nostalgia marketing is not likely to fade away any time soon.

 

Other Examples of Nostalgia Marketing Include: 

 

Yates, David, director. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Warner Brothers Entertainment. Feig, Paul, director. Ghostbusters (2016). Columbia Pictures.

 

Anderson, Wes, director. Moonrise Kingdom. Universal, 2012.

 

Lemire, Jeff. Essex County. Top Shelf Productions, 2008.

 

“Bob Ross: Beauty Is Everywhere.” Netflix, Netflix, 1 June 2016, www.netflix.com/title/80097532.

 

Abrams, J.J., director. Star Trek (2009). Paramount Pictures, 10 Nov. 2017.

 

See Also

 

     Nostalgia marketing is a large umbrella, but it can easily enough be divided into various subgenres. First off, we have the simple reboot. The latest Robocop, Star Wars, Tron, Blade Runner, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, Mad Max: Fury Road, the list goes on – all of these reboots of old or existing franchises fall under their own category in the nostalgia marketing category. They all are focused on revitalizing a “dead” franchise, and do so by focusing on eliciting the nostalgia associated with the franchise’s name

 

     Secondly, we have nostalgia-themed releases – Stranger Things, The Nice Guys, Moonrise Kingdom, and others fall under this category. This category focuses on nostalgia marketed media that consists of new ideas, but are heavily influenced and informed by 70s and 80s media. “Star Wars Effect” science fiction may also fall under this category. More and more, sci-fi is building up steam as a hot literary genre, thanks in no small part to how nostalgia marketing pushes the genre. Recent Star Wars novels, in addition to more “pure” sci-fi works such as Michael Anderle’s The Kurtherian Chronicles, all fall under this categorical umbrella.

 

Works Cited

 

Abrams, J.J., director. Star Trek (2009). Paramount Pictures, 10 Nov. 2017.

 

Abrams, J.J., director. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, 2015.

 

Anderson, Wes, director. Moonrise Kingdom. Universal, 2012.

 

Black, Shane, director. The Nice Guys. 2016.

 

“Bob Ross: Beauty Is Everywhere.” Netflix, Netflix, 1 June 2016, www.netflix.com/title/80097532.

 

Cook, Karla. “12 Ads That Prove Nostalgia Is a Powerful Marketing Tactic.” Blogspot, Blogspot, blog.hubspot.com/marketing/examples-nostalgia-marketing-ads.

 

Duffer, Matt, director. Stranger Things.

 

Escobar, Sam, and Helin Jung. “15 '80s Fashion Trends That Are Back.” Good Housekeeping, Good Housekeeping, 7 June 2016, www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/fashion/g3615/80s-fashion-trends-coming-back/.

 

Feig, Paul, director. Ghostbusters (2016). Columbia Pictures.

 

Franich, Darren. “Entertainment Geekly: Why Are We so Obsessed with the 1980s?” EW.com, EW.com, 23 Jan. 2014, ew.com/article/2014/01/23/80s-genre-entertainment-geekly/.

 

Friedman, Lauren. “Why Nostalgia Marketing Works So Well With Millennials, And How Your Brand Can Benefit.” Forbes.com, Forbes, 2 Aug. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/laurenfriedman/2016/08/02/why-nostalgia-marketing-works-so-well-with-millennials-and-how-your-brand-can-benefit/#4f4a97d53636.

 

Gain. “Stranger Things Is Proof That Nostalgia Marketing Works.” Marketing And Growth Hacking, Marketing And Growth Hacking, 8 Dec. 2016, blog.markgrowth.com/stranger-things-is-proof-that-nostalgia-marketing-works-b52ac6ee73fb.

 

Harvey, Eric. “'Retromania': Why Is Pop Culture Addicted to Its Own Past?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 1 Aug. 2011, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/08/retromania-why-is-pop-culture-addicted-to-its-own-past/242868/.

 

Huls, Alexander. “8 Brands and Entertainers Doing Nostalgia Marketing Right.” Shutterstock, Shutterstock, 3 Nov. 2016, www.shutterstock.com/blog/nostalgia-marketing-brands-entertainers.

 

Krieger, Lee, director. Riverdale. CW.

 

Lemire, Jeff. Essex County. Top Shelf Productions, 2008.

 

Liptak, Andrew. “Orbit Books Will Publish An Astonishing 90 Books A Year Starting In 2016.” Gizmodo.com, Gizmodo, 14 Nov. 15.

 

Lucas, George, director. Star Wars Trilogy. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2004.

 

Propoint. “Nostalgia Marketing And The Search For Authenticity.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 1 Aug. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/propointgraphics/2017/04/16/nostalgia-marketing-and-the-search-for-authenticity/#7585757267d6.

 

Robinson/Vulture, Maya. “It's 2016. Why Are We Still Obsessed With the '80s?” Vulture, Vulture, 1 Aug. 2011, www.vulture.com/2016/10/2016-why-are-we-obsessed-with-the-80s.html.

 

Scott, Ridley, director. Blade Runner The Directors' Cut. Warner Brothers, 1991.

 

Shortlist. “ The 25 Greatest Movies of the 80s.” Short List, Short List, www.shortlist.com/entertainment/films/the-25-greatest-movies-of-the-80s/84194.

 

Villeneuve, Denis, director. Blade Runner 2049.

 

Wilkins, Abigail. “Nostalgia Marketing Is Winning with Millennials: How Your Brand Can Benefit.” Brogan, Brogan, 5 May 2017, brogan.com/blog/nostalgia-marketing-winning-millennials-how-your-brand-can-benefit.

 

Yates, David, director. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Warner Brothers Entertainment.

 

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