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2 May 2012

Nostalgia in kids marketing: Hype or evergreen?

The remake of Maya the Bee is a fact, the Smurfs hype has just cooled down and there are The Muppets again at the movies. Watching kids programs nowadays seems like taking a trip down memory lane.

The expression Little things for little minds has become a thing of the past. Children are genuine critics with a huge spending power and influencing in a large extent the family purchases. That’s why this target segment has become interesting for marketers.

But how can you touch the right chord with these mini consumers? Marketers often try to persuade the parents, as an important part of the decision making unit, by reviving kids characters of the good old days. Is this nostalgia marketing an evergreen or rather a hype?

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Nostalgia as a temporary trend?

The boundary between the world of children and the daily life of adults fades away. On the one hand kids know at an early age what they want. On the other hand communications specialist Ingrid Bottelberghs talks about the recent phenomenon Adults Getting Younger Older. Adults refuse to grow up, which explains their interest in nostalgic kids icons who evoke recognizability.

The current societal need for authenticity and relevance is a consequence of our high-speed lifestyle. Therefore edutainment – entertaining kids in an educational way – becomes popular amongst parents. Retro characters refer to the days when things were slower, provide an alibi to revive their carefree youth and guarantee, in their perception, the quality and relevance of the TV show.

Parents are in search for the perfect mix of a busy job and family activities. They want to compensate their lack of time, try to understand the feelings and interests of their kids, become part of their world and want to share experiences. Nostalgic figures provide this sense of togetherness. Parents are connecting with their kids through characters of their own childhood. Furthermore, in these times of emoconomy, parents prefer buying quality products for their children, despite their higher fixed costs. This explains why the merchandising of icons they are familiar with gains importance.

Nostalgia as a repetitive phenomenon?

The challenging economic years explain of course the reactivation of the secure past. We might state that times of recession will always implicate the idealization of the good old days. In that case marketers can take crises as a guiding principle for the launch of kids campaigns with nostalgic ingredients.

In general, trendwatchers talk about a retrocyle of 20 years. Think about the comeback of the seventies in the nineties or the revival of the sixties during the eighties with for example the show The Wonder Years. Does this mean that our grandchildren will grow up with the Studio 100 figures like Bumba, Kabouter Plop and Piet Piraat?

Let’s grow up!

First of all I am not convinced that nostalgia reappears every two decades. Nowadays we are longing for  memories from all periods at the same time. Back to the past is more the ruling trend.

I wonder if evoking the past guarantees a profitable future or just stops any possible progress. History reveals that in times of prosperity people were planning their future and didn’t look back. We need to be creative and shouldn’t perpetuate the impasse we seem to be in. Children represent the consumers of tomorrow. The appreciation for a certain character will determine their future behavior, because adults stay loyal to products they knew in their childhood. So why do we reactivate nostalgic figures? Are new successful characters becoming rare? Innovation and the willingness to change are key! If we only recycle, how can a retro movement of our period be possible in the future?

The use of characters is a well-known strategy in kids marketing. Therefore the comeback of old characters goes hand in hand with a superabundance of kids figures. According to me there is a true disneyfication in our society. Characters are everywhere: on TV, at school, at the filling station … Shouldn’t we take a step back and try to focus on the relevance in today’s world?

I would like to point out that nostalgia driven kids marketing is complex: one size doesn’t fit all. The warm memories don’t assure the success of the iconic figures. Sometimes characters revoke nostalgic feelings with the parents, but the kids have a lack of affinity. This is for example sometimes the case with Disney figures. Children know Mickey Mouse, but they need a link with a contemporary story and setting to build up affinity. Disney invests a lot in protecting their figures to guarantee authenticity and an everlasting popularity. There needs to be a marriage of past and present. Marketers should reinterpret the added value of the old characters and their intrinsic values. They have to be in harmony with kids’ needs and need to be adapted to our present culture. Furthermore the current technological progress requires rapid formats. Otherwise the characters and its programs aren’t fast enough for our future digital omnivores. But the adaptations of the program and the old school characters may go so far that even the parents won’t recognize their idealized kids icons anymore.

Marketers provide answers to the consumer’s needs. If the consumer is filled with nostalgia for the days of times gone by, then be agile, respond in a creative way to this trend and make it a long-term strategy. But keep in mind that the future is in the hands of the next generation. So let’s also play and create a whole new kids universe where everything is possible.

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