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‘Back by Popular Demand’ – The Power of Retro

‘Back by Popular Demand’ – The Power of Retro

Latest from OMD Sense.

For decades, fashion designers and brands have been “inspired” by designs from the past, and film, books and music are always big on remakes and covers.

The past decade has seen these practices extend out of the creative industries, with reintroduced retro brands becoming ever more noticeable in a number of different categories.

This trend has seen a new phase of development over the past 3-4 years. Nostalgia for vanished brands and products is a modern cultural constant, but we’ve begun to see the re-introduction of discontinued brands on the back of consumer pressure groups created through the likes of Facebook and myspace. We’re calling this trend Back by Popular Demand.


Every year sees the remake of at least one old film or TV show – facelifted to attract a new audience to an old plotline, and familiar enough to attract those ancient enough to recognise it. Miami Vice, Doctor Who, Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job and Alfie are just a few that we’ve seen in recent years, leading to some inter-generational confusion about which version, old or new, you’re actually talking about.

The new versions are more polished and attention-grabbing iterations of the iconic original, if not exactly better.

Similarly, 1998 saw Volkswagen release the ‘New Beetle’ in the US on the back of strong public reaction to the ‘Concept 1’ model. The new Beetle has enjoyed strong sales on either side of the Atlantic since.

This was followed in 2000 by BMW’s announcement that the Mini, icon of the 60s, was to be re-released as the MINI. In April 07 the millionth ‘new’ MINI was manufactured at the Oxford-based plant, taking just one month longer to hit that mark than its predecessor did in 1965.

And now the Fiat 500 is set for return after 32 years in retirement. In its original form, each of these brands/models was cheap, European, tiny, and distinct from other cars. They were democratic, stylish, and because you could get 4 adults into them with a bit of a squash, fun. This combination rendered them iconic.

The remakes are more accommodating, better constructed using better materials, more expensive, and derive all their charm from the original. The cheapest cars now available are mostly made in the Far East and, by comparison with these remakes are likely to be small, less well-constructed and so on.

In both of these categories, the remake is a strong bet. Hollywood was taken over by Wall St in the late 1970s, just as some very original movies were losing the studios unique sums of money. Since then, sequels or remakes of iconic properties are a much better bet. What we see in the car category imitates this. In both cases, the reproduction is decided upon and realised by the maker, and the market responds to it.


Petitions are a good way of telling a politician that there’s a market for a policy. They used to be gathered laboriously – door-to-door, in the street for hours or at a stall. Such petitions were also time-consuming to join, requiring the signatory to stop what they’re doing, listen to a pitch, and very likely be shamed along the way. This style of petition is still done, mainly by active interest groups such as anti-vivisectionists.

However, November 2006 saw the launch of ‘e-petitions’ on the 10 Downing Street website – an opportunity for any UK citizen with an email address to create a petition or add their name to any of the 7,500 live petitions.

This allows everyone a chance to have their say and give their view without any of the tribulations of the pre-e-petition. Response to the site has been immense – in just under a year over 22k petitions have been created on everything from the interest on student loans to ‘Make Jeremy Clarkson Prime Minister’ – the eighth most popular petition, with over 21k signatures at time of writing!

With 4.5m total signatures from 3.2m unique email address, the e-petition project is proof that the internet has provided the perfect channel for the public to have their say and participate in mass pressure on a wide range of subjects no matter how serious or comical. Whichever stance petitioners take, their subject here is political.

A self-declared market petitions to be sold to

Political matters also register on apparently apolitical social networks, leading David Milliband to talk of ‘politics for the facebook generation’. One facebook group opposing the Burmese government has over 300,000 global members. But users also petition as consumers

In August 2007 Cadbury announced a limited edition reissue of their discontinued Wispa chocolate bar in answer to mounting online demand. On Facebook alone there were 93 ‘Bring Back Wispa’ groups with close to a total of 14k members – and other social networks weren’t far behind with their support for the cause.

Cadbury aren’t the first confectionary manufacturer to re-launch a popular retro brand – in 2004 Golden Wonder did the same with Ringos crisps, and in 2005 Nestle revived their popular 70’s bar, the Texan.

There are occasional online petitions in the US for cancelled cult TV shows, but Cadbury are the first confectioner to have the benefit of a self-declared market that has petitioned to be sold to.

A quick Google search confirmed that pressure groups aren’t restricted to the food category alone – ‘Bring Back Nightmare’ (a children’s TV show from the 80’s, 6k signatures), two ‘Bring Back Beckham [to the England squad]’ campaigns (15k signatures), and even one site calling for the return of Britney Spears’ career (with, worryingly, 2.3k signatures).


Despite this apparent support of such a range of consumer causes, it seems logical to question whether or not this demand echoes a genuine consumer desire for the long lost brand, a nostalgic quest, or a cleverly engineered campaign by the company itself to drive publicity and sales for a brand re-launch.

After all, it doesn’t take much effort to add your name or email address to an online petition from the comfort of your desk.

But does this mean you’ll really buy the product? And what kind of product? Icon+timing seems to be the first half of the formula. Wispa was an iconic part of 80s popular culture, and sales figures will show what happened after the ‘=’ sign.

In the meantime, we have to ask whether a brand can sustain a comeback given that it was discontinued in the first place (often due to prolonged declining sales) and especially in the case of food re-launches, whether the brand can secure a market in young palates who don’t recall the original? Only time, and some smart marketing, will tell how all of these questions are answered.

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