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A new kind of retro marketing (and why don’t we see more charities using it?)

Tape cassette unspooled on yellow and red background - image: pexels.com

Our memories can be powerful drivers of immediate and future actions. What we learn as children often shapes the decisions we take and our behaviours as adults. All pretty obvious.

In an attempt to persuade us to part with our cash, many organisations have used the concept of ‘retro’ marketing to try and tap into the positive associations we might have with a certain brand or time in our lives. The theory goes that we see or hear a marketing message and think “I remember that thing fondly, therefore I’m more inclined to buy the new version”.

One approach is to appeal to the customers a brand had previously which has resulted in the reintroduction of the Wispa chocolate bar and, to a lesser extent, Ray-ban Aviator sunglasses. Fairy Liquid attempted to appeal to mums and daughters everywhere by paying homage to decades of ‘innocent’ fun with bubbles and soft hands.


An introduction to AI for charity professionals by Ross Angus

But the most successful campaigns, however, have to understand the motivations of a new audience rather than just appeal to their previous customers or supporters. These brands try to leverage only certain retro aspects to promote – the difficulty is in picking the right ones. For example, the latest Fiat 500 is linked to the tiny 1950’s original but is not aimed at people now in their seventies! Fiat’s communications use the fun, affordable, quirky and characterful nature of the original and build on these to support what it hopes people will feel about the new car. It hasn’t tried to rebuild and repackage the original because it wants to position the new model differently, as a lifestyle-cum-city-car-statement.

Moving the game on further, the most subtle exponents of this technique leverage our memories beyond the products or services themselves and deliver retro marketing by association. My favourite example is a new VW Passat advert (thanks Vincent for sharing) which is very likely targeted at a certain generation of chap.

[The video is no longer available – 2021]

I suspect I am amongst the target audience. Old enough to remember Darth Vader-inspired, childhood fun and able to empathise with the kid in the advert. I’ve had boy-racer cars and convertibles and now I actually think the VW Passat is a nice car and, most importantly, I can probably afford one. I watch this ad and I’m not smiling at the car – it’s the fact that I tried to do exactly what that kid is doing and that makes me smile but now I owe VW for the smile…

I haven’t found any similar examples yet from the charity world although Sue Ryder Care did pilot retro shops a little while ago and I’ve seen Peter Pan used to support Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. I think this could be an under-utilised technique in the not-for-profit sector. What do you think?

Kevin Baughen is the founder of Bottom Line Ideas and has a deep-rooted passion for ideas that actually work in the real world. Those ideas help charities of all shapes and sizes to get their stories and messages to the audiences they need to hear them. And then persuade them to act!