The Greatest Thing since…the last greatest thing

By , 12 October, 2008, No Comment

Advertisers have always sold “youth.” Drink this juice, use this lotion, take this little blue pill and stay 17 forever. But this season brings a new twist . Advertisers are reviving old ad campaigns to sell new products: ie buy this and feel like you did when you last heard this jingle.

Exhibit A: “In an Absolut World.” When I was a kid, Absolut had a series of magazine ads with a the tagline Absolut _____. Each ad was a picture of a scene with the Absolut bottle shape embedded somewhere, like a Where’s Waldo. The tagline filled in the blank with a word to describe the scene. “Absolut Brooklyn,” my personal favorite, had the bottles as the arches in the Brooklyn bridge. The photography was pretty stellar, and teens used to collect them like celebrity clippings, but most collectors were underage. Not so good for business. Now we’re all grown up and vodka-drinkers ourselves, so the ads are back: a new series fills in the ____ in the tagline with a place name and gives us a picture that symbolizes the local zeitgeist. In theory, the selling point here is the same as in the old ads, “Drink Absolut and your ____ will be more absolutely ___.” But to me, the ads say “Come have a drink with an old friend, the brand you used to love and can now afford to buy.”

Exhibit B: “Citi Never Sleeps.” Citigroup has this new commercial out “Citi never sleeps.”

If Citi’s agency had invented the line yesterday, it might have worked as a reassuring description of a company watching out for its consumers in a rapidly changing, volatile, even scary business environment. But in actuality, the tagline is a revival of the line “The Citi Never Sleeps,” which Citibank used in the pre-Sandy Weil days to describe itself as financial firm serving Wall Street fat cats and paced to their trading schedule. Hardly the same company. Hardly the same idea. But using the same line today bypasses all the intervening changes to say, “Hey, remember us? We were around when you were getting richer.”

Even deeper down, however, I think the attempt to package nostalgia as a ticket to youth is as much about the ad agencies as it is about the clients they represent. The 1980s, when these campaigns ran, were boom times for the platforms we now deride as “old media.” Revisiting them says “Hey, remember when Madison Avenue mattered?” And whether or not the ads work, dabbling in that nostalgia makes MadAve feel better.

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