3 Recent Examples of the Surge in 1980s Nostalgia Marketing

If you were 15 in 1984, you are probably now close to 45 years old. That means you’re right in the window for reaching your peak annual earning potential (this report notes a woman’s income peak as age 40 and a man’s as age 49). That also means marketers want to make an emotional connection with you.

This age group is in the sweet spot right now. You hold the purses and wallets, and make most of the purchasing decisions for your household. While younger generations make products hip and cool, and older generations hold value for their consistency and loyalty, the middle generation is where the money lies. Which is why we’re seeing so much 80s-based marketing lately.

Hitting the Soft Spot for the Children of the 80s

Every generation has a soft spot in its heart for the formative years. To create a customer-brand connection, many brands try to tap into that soft spot with their marketing and advertising. And one of the easiest ways to do that is by using pop-culture tentpoles from the time period.

That’s why you’re seeing more commercials like this:

This Radio Shack TV spot—which aired during the 2014 Super Bowl—is jam-packed with 80s nostalgia. ALF, Hulk Hogan, Chucky, Twisted Sister, they’re all there. And they’re all meant to make you chuckle as you conjure memories of a decade gone by. (Though one could argue that the marketing message in this commercial is actually highly counterproductive. But that’s another story.)

Marketing Makes 1980s Pop Culture New Again

Here are a few examples of other marketing efforts riding the 1980s nostalgia wave that caught our MONSTER eyes recently. How do these grab you? Do they make you jump up and down on your Pogo Ball and scream “Rad!”?

Great Scott, Marty!

LEGO has been very smart with their licensing. This Back to the Future LEGO set is a great example of a nostalgia product with dual appeal:

Back to the Future LEGO Set

Sure, LEGOs are typically seen as a kid’s toy (though not always). But who buys kid’s toys? That’s right, the parents. And many of today’s parents probably have pretty fond memories of one of the biggest movies of the 1980s: Back to the Future. It’s the same reason we see so many adult nostalgia references in Pixar movies, it hooks the parents while also hooking the kids. Well played, LEGO.

Although if you didn’t know these LEGOs were Marty and Doc Brown, would you intuitively know that’s who they are? Questionable…

LEGO Doc and Marty

Just the Good Ole’ Boys

While it may not be the greatest TV show of all time, The Dukes of Hazzard is certainly one of the most memorable. The “General Lee” is an iconic vehicle that anyone who grew up in the 80s can recognize.

That’s what fueled AutoTrader.com to use the car—and the original Bo and Luke Duke—in this new “mini-movie”:

It’s a nice thematic tie-in (too often brands use these nostalgia figures with no real rhyme or reason) and many in the sweet-spot generation will get a kick out of seeing the Duke boys behind the wheel again.

No doubt the 80s generation will like it better than this:

The New Dukes

Who You Gonna Call?

If you were a kid in the 1980s, you’re probably familiar with Proton Packs, Slimer, and Zuul. Say these words to anyone under 25 today and they’ll be scratching their heads. They just don’t know who to call when they find an invisible man sleeping in their bed.


Ghostbusters was huge in the 80s. Maybe second only to Star Wars when it came to movies that left their pop-culture imprint on kids. Well, for one day only this summer (August 29, 2014) Ghostbusters will return to 700 theaters in celebration of the movie’s 30th anniversary.

Middle generations get to see an old favorite, kids get to check it out for the first time, and the studio gets to line its pockets even more on a movie that’s already made millions. Count us in!


Creating Connections Through Shared Experiences

Expect to see more 1980s nostalgia marketing heading your way (and the 1990s too as that generation increases its earning potential). If you grew up in the 80s, take it as a compliment. You’re weight as a consumer will never be greater.

For marketers, nostalgia can be a quick and easy way to create an emotional connection. But in order for it to be effective it has to: 

(1) make sense with your product or service; and

(2) be authentic.

You can’t just bring in Hulk Hogan. You have to thematically tie the icon to your brand, and tap into the experience of the people (your audience) who witnessed the icon. When you do it right, nostalgia marketing can instantly transport your audience back behind their 15-year-old eyes. And that’s powerful stuff.

Bill and Ted





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