The trend of entertainment and consumer product brands from the past reemerging and banking on their rich heritage in today’s marketplace continues to gain momentum. And I’m not surprised. While there are a lot of reasons brand owners are reintroducing these classics instead of investing in the innovation and development of new brands, none are more compelling than the potential these brands have of not only appealing to lifelong fans through nostalgia, but to completely new generations of fans through a contemporary visual twist and a fresh take on content.
There’s also quite a bit of risk involved in launching a new brand in today’s oversaturated marketplace. One has to wonder, is there truly enough mindshare for a new brand to acquire among consumers who are bombarded with competitive choices at every touch point? Classic brands already own consumer mindshare. It’s just a matter of reminding adult fans of how great these brands were when they captured their attention the first time, then make subtle tweaks to their storyline and how they’re visually presented to make fans out of their children.
To increase the chance of success, consideration must be given to why a particular entertainment or consumer product brand from the past should be resurrected. Simply capitalizing on the nostalgia trend is not significant enough justification. Remember, most brands from our past are dead for a reason. Their brand values may have lost relevance as our culture evolved, or their premise may have become too outdated to appeal to subsequent generations. But the right brands, those with messages that still ring true in today’s world, will connect with consumers of all ages… all over again.
Appealing to lifelong fans and new generations through a fresh, new look
Thunderbirds, the 1960s Supermarionation science fiction television series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, never really lost its relevance among fans in the UK. It had been through quite a few evolutionary iterations over the years, all of which stayed quite true to the look of the original series, its characters and the International Rescue storyline. After quite a long hiatus, the property was retooled and reintroduced by ITV Studios and Pukeko Pictures a few years ago as Thunderbirds Are Go, an animated series that combines CG and live-action sets to visually appeal to a new, young audience of International Rescue fans. So much of what adult fans know and love about the classic Thunderbirds remains the same, including the key characters and the use of hand-made models and miniature sets, to honor the original series. But gone are the large-headed marionette puppets in ’60s-styled military uniforms. The new look Tracy brothers are properly proportioned, sport slick, new, hi-tech uniforms and take advantage of CG animation for all of the action. The series is now in its 4th season, which features David Tennant (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) and Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones, Me Before You) voicing new characters.
Much like Thunderbirds, but not nearly as vintage, Pokémon is still extremely popular among avid fans. Since it was first released in 1996, it has earned approximately $45 billlion in revenue from video games, feature-length films and licensed consumer products. Although it may have seemed to have fallen dormant to anyone who wasn’t paying close attention, that all changed in 2016 with the introduction of the GPS-powered, augmented reality smartphone game, Pokémon GO. Almost overnight, the game became an absolute global phenomenon, even making fans out of those of us who weren’t prior to its release. Why? Because the AR game encouraged players to go outside and explore… literally everywhere. And it was so much fun to play! Again, new content was developed and a contemporary tweak was made to the property and its relevance skyrocketed with all audiences.
In May of this year, we saw the release of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, the first feature film to depict Pokémon characters coexisting with humans in live action. The film appeals to adult Pokémon fans, but there are a few major shifts in the storyline to make the film more believable and entertaining. Firstly, the main character, Pikachu, who was previously only capable of saying his own name in a high-pitched kid-like voice, now speaks English – and is voiced by Ryan Reynolds no less! Secondly, the way Pokémon are captured is depicted in a much different way than in its animated iterations. The more realistic take on the process shows just how strenuous and painful it is for the Pokémon themselves. The film introduces a completely new storyline based on the video game of the same name and has delighted fans yet again.
Packaging with a nod to the past and an eye on the future
When a classic entertainment or consumer product brand is reintroduced to the marketplace, its package design plays a critical role in how well it is embraced by consumers. Bringing back its original packaging, but contemporizing it a bit can bridge the gap between multiple generations of consumers.
During NY Toy Fair this past February, I stumbled upon a familiar package design at the Boss Fight Studio booth. It was a blister card for a new line of action figures based on the Bucky O’Hare comics, originally published by Continuity Comics in the mid-1980s, which spawned an animated series that aired from 1991-1992. The packaging looked familiar because it was almost exactly the same as the design I created for the original Bucky O’Hare action figures when they were first released by Hasbro in 1990! Boss Fight Group decided to reintroduce their own line of new, highly-detailed, super-articulated action figures to appeal to the property’s fans and collectors. They decided to pay homage to what I created almost 30 years ago by maintaining the original package design, yet contemporized it by splitting the front panel on a diagonal and adding a page from the Bucky O’Hare comic book down the right side. The old-school mini-blister is still being leveraged, although its shape has been simplified and its structure is now up to today’s standards. Currently, the Bucky O’Hare product line is only available online directly from Boss Fight Studio and its distributors. However, if it ever makes its way to store shelves, its packaging will certainly look distinctive among the more elaborate and sophisticated action figure packaging at retail today.
Sometimes staying as true as possible to a brand’s heritage packaging is the most powerful way to connect with die-hard fans on an emotional level. When Star Wars turned 40 in 2017, Hasbro celebrated by introducing a special 40th anniversary wave of 6-inch Black Series action figures – the same 12 figures that Kenner launched in 1977, with a few upgrades to their styling and features. The new packaging featured the iconic double raceway framework, accurately-reproduced character photography and the Kenner logo from the original 3.75-inch action figure packaging, but had been upgraded to incorporated a new blister size, card proportion and a silver foil 40th anniversary logo. To have created anything other than a faithful reproduction of the iconic packaging from 1977 for this particular line of Star Wars action figures would have been viewed as a tragic mistake among the brand’s collector purists.
Before classic entertainment or consumer product brands are revived for reintroduction into the marketplace, the objectives for doing so must be determined in advance. Then a proper balance must be achieved between heritage and contemporary cues. Those who infuse their nostalgic brands with a fresh look and fresh content to emotionally connect with new fans, and maintain the original message to bring back fond memories for its original fans are guaranteed to capture the hearts of multiple generations.