The 'Retro' Revolution
When 'Old' Is 'New' Again.
It's been said that in order to move forwards, we must sometimes look to our past for guidance. Ok, nice words, as far as cause and effect logic goes. My son recently turned nine-years-old, and at nine, he's already a master of cause and effect logic.
Through some previous bad choices, he now understands that if he misbehaves, there will be no new video game for his PSP. Yes, I have my nine-year-old pegged. As with me throughout my own adolescence, video games are his Achilles' Heel as well.
Recently he and I were at the video game store checking out new gaming titles. He'd had a pretty good academic month and his monthly allowance would be a new game. He immediately selected ‘Frogger' and then asked me if I'd heard of it.
Um, yeah, I knew Frogger. My three initials, RMB, held the high score for six consecutive weeks at the local arcade until Adam Sorbino replaced my Frogger high score with his own initials.
Adam Sorbino. Adam Stephan Sorbino, or ASS. After Adam took away my high score, I never again felt bad for him having had the misfortune of being born with those three sequential initials.
That was well over twenty years ago.
But in 2007, suddenly Frogger was all the rage? Again? What made it all complexly more embarrassing is that my nine-year-old felt compelled to explain it to me.
Later, that experience got me thinking about the whole ‘old is new' thing gripping America. As my son commanded his PSP Frogger to navigate rivers, alligators, and mazes I sat at my computer and started my research. I turned on my stereo and The Beatles were busy singing about a girl named Lucy. My nine-year-old looked up from his PSP just long enough to inform me that a guy named Mark Chapman killed John Lennon.
I wondered what year it was.
Last year, in 2007, I noted that the profitable 'remarketing' of older, even classic, arts and entertainment concepts is a great looming pool of lucrative A&E resurgence. A year later retailers, marketing agencies, entertainment companies, and others, are wading into those waters.
Truly, America's fascination with itself is an on-going crusade for self-identity. America's self-identity is most notably defined in its celebrity idol, its reality television and certainly in its focus upon ‘Retro.' Clearly, the most exciting trend, to both consumers and retailers alike, has been America's response to the packaging of old concepts into new packages. Simply stated, ‘Retro' is taking old things and making them ‘new' again.
In doing so, The Retro Revolution was born. Yes, just as ‘Disco' defined an era thirty years ago, ‘New Wave' defined an era twenty years ago, and ‘Grunge' defined and an era just a decade ago, ‘Retro' is a term quickly gaining popularity with today's entertainment-obsessed America.
In the United States, Retro is now everywhere. Pet Rocks, Star Wars, Disco, even Cabbage Patch Kids and Rubik's Cubes were all given huge votes of consumer confidence by the American spending machine. Not only in the 1970's and 1980's, when such items originally debuted, and sometimes even failed, but once again years, even decades later.
Now, in 2007, as ugly 1980's haircuts and ugly 1980's piano neckties begin their disastrous Second Coming, America's obsession with The Retro Revolution shows no clear signs of slowing.
America's obsession with Retro, can actually be traced back to 1987, a year which, ironically enough, is now itself considered a ‘Retro Year' some 20 years later.
In 1987, athletic apparel giant Nike gambled upon using the classic twenty-year-old Beatles song, ‘Revolution', in their television commercials. It was a gamble that did not pay off.
At the time, attempting to use The Beatles to sell tennis shoes was not just a huge marketing failure, but the offended American public, as well as an outraged international community, immediately condemned Nike's arrogance. Eventually, it would take Nike many years to correct the mistakes of just one 30-second television commercial. Nike's stock value crashed, and Nike's once untouchable reputation suffered dramatically. However, sales of almost all titles even remotely related to The Beatles peaked immediately.
Nike may have failed at selling their 1987 line of athletic shoes, however they were very successful at selling The Beatles. At the time, this one incident was responsible for the single largest sales increase of The Beatles' music in years.
To this, American retailers paid very close attention. They learned quickly that their largest profit margins would not necessarily be found not in creating something truly new, or unique, but in returning to old concepts and themes.
Initially America's Retro Revolution grew slowly and was focused upon ‘old music.' However, as opportunity arose, other Retro areas were gradually re-introduced; old fashion, old toys, old TV shows and old movie re-makes all became ‘new' again. In making the old, once again ‘new,' the Retro Revolution has grabbed America and now creates new areas of entertainment industry profitability.
In 2007, now as the American entertainment industry thinks up new methods of re-inventing a Pet Rock, in many ways, modern America's thriving Retro successes can tie many of their neuvo riche profits to Nike's tremendous 1987 marketing failure.
And, yes, as The Beatles would say... It was 20 years ago today.
ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: SEPTEMBER 2007