It says a lot about today that many adverts feature the past and reminisce fondly about “the old days” and the strengths of heritage and stability. They employ nostaglia therefore not only to stir emotion and respectively happier memories, but also to appeal to the consumer of the by-gone era – the one impressed by the brand, loyal to one manufacturer and less cynical about the latest marketing ploy. You can almost hear the ad execs harking back to the “golden days of advertising”, and using retro footage, dodgy haircuts and women in aprons to crystalise that thought and sell a recent “classic” car/meal/insurance in the process. Besides, arguably this concept works – if (the golden if) your target audience is of a certain age, and the history of the brand is something worth selling, or indeed watching. Obvious though it seems, I think far too many ads play the aged card without really thinking whether this acts as a benefit to the brand, which incidentally is supposed to have moved forward rather than back (so you would hope).
Take this recent advert for Audi by BBH London. Entitled ‘The Swan’, the advert tells the well-known tale of the ugly duckling turned good – a classic children’s story that my mum used to tell me when I moaned about my freckles (now ironically gone). Irregardless, the campaign celebrates Audi’s heritage, its research & development to production metamorphis from a prototype moving carton of a car in the 1920s to its sleek modern counterpart. The strategy behind the well-crafted and wonderfully old-school execution supposedly being that Audi is pioneering, consistently leading in terms of its aerodynamic technology and engineering. However, this is where I believe the wheels of the idea run flat – arguably by comparing the new Audi A5 to its innovative and eye-catching predecessor, the former looks a bit dull, characterless and very much “Vorsprung durch technik” in contrast to the revs and tyre screams of the earlier vision. Likewise, by filling the majority of the film with black-and-white footage, the question of arises of what Audi has done new?
As such, the advert highlights what I believe is the key quicksand pitfall of nostalgia-geared advertising – the present. While you can fantasise about the past (those supposedly idyllic “good old days”) when it comes to the present a brand cannot hide, the ‘time machine’ a ludricous non-prospect. In other words Audi, lovely though your advert is, I want a car that is trend-setting and with a lot of futuristic parking-made-easier gadgets that go with it.