Retro marketing is about using the past to sell the present. The new Beetle, the reintroduction of the Wispa bar, Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses and the latest Olympus E-P1 retro style digital camera are all examples of successful retro marketing.
Successful retro marketing is more than just nostalgia. It is about getting a new following for an old style product. The Wispa bar was reborn from an internet campaign to bring it back. The retro cars have their own band of young buyers, keen on the retro image, but wanting a modern car.
It is too soon to tell if the Olympus E-P1, based on the original Olympus Pen series, will succeed. It has the ingredients to make it a modern, cult object. The original Olympus Pen was a small, but advanced camera, the new Pen is the same. Its retro styling looks bang on target; it has the serious look of a top camera from the sixties. The retro brand story is also right. Olympus cameras in the sixties and seventies were compact and innovative, setting new standards in design. The new Pen is also pushing boundaries – the flexibility of an SLR, combined with the convenience of a compact in a retro package.
Success in retro marketing needs to based on a solid and believable brand story. It needs to be more than skin deep and it needs to be pursued with conviction. Retro also needs to appeal to the young. Older customers do not often buy the retro story.
The Jaguar X-Type and S-type saloons were an attempt to go retro for the more mature executive car market. Both have now been dropped by Jaguar. The motoring press did not like either car particularly. They berated their retro styling as ‘outdated’. Come on! that’s the whole point isn’t it? However, I think the main reason for their comparative poor performance was that Jaguar was a little shy about retro style. Recent facelifts played it down. If you want to go retro, it has to be deliberate and full on.
The new Mini, Fiat 500 and Beetle all have their own following. Of the three cars I think the Fiat 500 has most closely captured the look and feel of the original. It is, however, clearly a different car, larger with substantially more power and with all of today’s mod cons. They are probably targeting the same kind of buyer as their sixties’ equivalent, young trendsetters. Those buyers have more money to spend and want something with character, but more than the most basic form of transport.
Wispa was a reissue of a Cadbury’s chocolate bar from the 80s. Cadbury’s dropped Wispa after a brand reorganisation, but a successful internet campaign showed that there was still a market for it. Sales of Wispa had slumped, but as a retro product it has a new following and Cadbury’s are soon to revive Wispa Gold, a bar from the 90s.
Then there are retro products that never went away. Ray-Ban Aviators were fashionable in the 50s and 60s, and were discovered again in the 80s. They continue to sell well today. Their pedigree is impeccable. Designed for US pilots, and popular with the US military: General Douglas MacArthur liberated the Philippines wearing a pair – you can’t get more authentic.
Nostalgia has always been a strong selling point, but clearly just any old product will not do. The period has to be right and the story has to be authentic. Has retro had it’s day? The answer is clearly no. Like Rock’n’Roll, retro is here to stay.