Everything Old Is New Again

Advertising generally prides itself on being ahead of the curve and helping to create and define popular culture rather than trying to revisit it. However, recently many advertisers have been bringing back some of their classic advertising characters and commercials rather than looking for new creative ides. The D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles agency brought back the original "Mr. Whipple," the stern grocer known for his famous request, "Please don't squeeze the Charmin," in commercials for the brand.The ads, which ran over a period of 18 months, resulted in an onslaught of emails and letters from consumers indicating their fondness for the iconic character. The Quaker company brought back the classic "Mikey" commercial for Life cereal, which first aired in 1972 and ran for 12 years. The spot features a cute three-year-old boy who hates everything but likes the taste of Life cereal when he tries it. The director of account planning at the FCB agency noted that the commercial was successful because people had a warm and fuzzy feeling about Mikey, and it is still relevant today.

Other popular advertising characters from the past have resurfaced recently. Isuzu brought back Joe Isuzu, the sleazy pitchman with a creepy smile who satirizes the clich├ęs of car ads, to hawk its Rodeo SUV after he had been off the air for 11 years. Several animated characters have also returned to the airways, including the Jolly Green Giant for Green Giant vegetables and Charlie the Tuna for Starkist. Music and fashion from the

1980s are also back in vogue, so advertisers are bringing back some of the decade's iconic TV stars to appear in their commercials. Alien puppet ALF, whose show was popular in the late 80s, appears in ads for discount phone service 10-10-220, while Mr.T, from the hit show The A-Team, endorses 1-800-COLLECT. Robin Leach, who hosted the celebrity-watching show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, appears in ads for Courtyard by Marriott hotels. Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television, says that there's usually a two-decade break between a TV show and the resurrection of its stars.

Astute marketers recognize they cannot rely solely on the recognition and nostalgia generated by past ads and simply bring back the same thing. Thus, advertisers are seeking to avoid the inherent risks associated with retrospective marketing, primarily by contemporizing the classic elements of their ads to make them relevant to current consumers, especially young people. For example, Pepsi created an extravagant commercial featuring pop star Brittany Spears taking a trip through generations of Pepsi advertising and revisiting jingles while dressed in period garb. Although the commercial has a nostalgic tone, it also has a modern, forward-looking ending as it transitions to the current image for the brand. Fruit of the Loom recently brought back the "fruit guys," four obnoxious little men who dress up as pieces of fruit and appear in humorous commercials for the brand of underwear. However, the new ads indirectly poke fun at the four middle-aged fruit guys from the old days.

Reviving time-tested advertising characters, spokespeople, and commercials has long been a popular advertising tactic among marketers, particularly during uncertain times, such as the post-September 11 era. Experts note that new creative ideas are often put aside for the reassuringly familiar. One brand identity consultant notes: "When we feel less secure, with less control over our daily lives, we reach out in brands to connect with a time when things felt better, more comfortable. It's about finding security, what we can trust." However, marketers recognize that they must recalibrate the familiar if they want to make their ads relevant to the modern-day consumer.

Sources: Vanessa O'Connell,"Ad Campaign Again Bears Fruit Guys." The Wall Street Journal, July 19,2002, p. B2; Stuart Elliott, "Ads from the Past with Modern Touches," The New York Times, Sept. 9,2002, p.C8; Julia Cosgrove,"Listen Up Sucka,the '80s Are Back," BusinessWeek, Aug. 5,2002, p. 16.

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