Why recycling isn’t the way to clean up

Look to the future because reusing old catchphrases and music is no longer what consumers want in post-recession Britain.

I’m bored of recycling. Ever since the UK fell into recession, we have been bombarded with campaigns presenting us with a nostalgic view of the past. Marketers seem to have got lazy, churning out a series of campaigns that reuse old slogans and music.

The latest incarnation of this is meat brand Bernard Matthews bringing back its “Bootiful” phrase into its advertising. To really sledgehammer the message home, it is using the Joe Cocker track You Are So Beautiful, now adapted to “You Are So Bootiful”.

This follows an admittedly amusing advert from MasterCard earlier this month, which sees Welsh songstress Bonnie Tyler rework her classic 1983 hit Total Eclipse of the Heart for the purposes of flogging financial services. And comedian Peter Kay has rejoined beer brand John Smith’s, which he fronted from 2002 to 2005, bringing back its “No nonsense” slogan.

The real problem with reusing marketing catchphrases, classic music and images is that it simply isn’t what consumers want in 2010. People are tired of hearing about the recession, according to research from the US by Ogilvy & Mather. It’s not that everyone is suddenly wealthy and optimistic; it’s just that they are asking for something new. Nostalgia is literally passé

After all, it’s not just Bernard Matthews and John Smith’s going back to the past. The default position for brands over the past two years has been to emphasise nostalgia and value. Virgin Atlantic brought out its glamorous Eighties-style stewardesses; Heinz showed us a montage of its previous beans ads; Cadbury brought us a gorilla playing an Eighties Phil Collins and later Bonnie Tyler track; and Hovis took a trip back through sepia-tinted British history.

The brands doing really interesting things right now are looking forward, rather than backward. They’re using the new technology available today and even creating new business models for the post-recession world. They want their customers to feel intrigued and inspired again, rather than risking contempt through familiarity.

Take clothing brand Uniqlo. It’s known for its recession-friendly value on the high street, but its advertising isn’t shouting about its low-cost offers or even the nostalgia-heavy cartoon T-shirts that appear on its shelves. Instead, Uniqlo’s latest campaign will take your tweets (or a subject of your choice if you don’t use Twitter) then create a personalised “Uniqlo Tweet Show” ad from it. It’s a video experience that shows your tweets rolling over the screen, while Uniqlo models and outfits are on display.

It’s hardly world changing, but it feels like it’s of the moment. It’s digital (in other words, cheap), well-targeted at the audience and doesn’t hark back to better days, a previous campaign or use a tune from 20-odd years ago to push the message.

Another company exploring interesting areas is LVMH. The luxury brand is expanding into hotels. This may seem a bold move in the current economic climate, but the company better known for handbags and champagne is aiming to grow in new sectors, as well as its traditional business areas.

LVMH, which will call its resort chain Cheval Blanc, is not the first luxury fashion house to open hotels. Gucci and Bvlgari, among others, are already operating in this space on a small scale. But at least the brand is considering how it might evolve in future, rather than relying on its successes of the past.

Meanwhile, US TV network NBC is a media owner experimenting with new territory by looking at how it can take product placement to a new level with “behaviour placement”.

The brands doing really interesting things right now are looking forward, rather than backward. They’re using the new technology available today and even creating new business models for the postrecession world. They want their customers to feel intrigued and inspired again, rather than risking contempt through familiarity.

This slightly sinister-sounding practice means that rather than putting branded items in camera shot, characters within shows are tasked with a certain type of behaviour. NBC has tested this with a focus on green behaviour, getting detectives on Law & Order to investigate a scam about the US government’s car trade-in programme, while a character on The Office became recycling-conscious.

This scheme is only in its early stages and unlikely to make it to the UK any time soon due to our TV regulations, but it’s an interesting development. NBC believes this type of placement might be more palatable for viewers than standard product views. And at least it is trying to innovate with the way people consume media and how brands can reach them.

And over in Japan, which is home to some of the world’s most wacky ideas, Coca-Cola is turning to fingerprint recognition in its vending machines. It is testing Hitachi’s finger vein authentication technology, which allows people to make a purchase without the need for credit cards or cash.

Obviously not all of these innovations are practical for every brand. Rehashing old ideas is far easier, so I don’t expect to see many brands looking to creating new business models, using the latest media channels or incorporating space-age technology.

So if you are going to turn back time for your consumers, I have a piece of advice for marketers. At least make your methods appropriate to today’s consumers. When Cadbury brought back the Wispa in 2007 after a Facebook campaign, it was in the spirit of today’s online consumer activism. Pears was able to bring back its original recipe soap earlier this year on the back of another social media campaign.

So don’t just recycle, make sure you are doing something new. In another 20 years, after all, the next generation of marketers will be looking for nostalgia inspiration in your campaigns of today. Give them something to work with.

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