Nostalgia continues to be a popular theme in advertising, but the uncertainty of 2021 seemed to inspire marketers to dig even more deeply into yesteryear, reminding consumers of more comforting times and perhaps engendering goodwill for their brands in the process. Here, some of the most surprising and entertaining retro brands moves of the year.
The most nostalgic commercials and campaigns in 2021
Back in the ‘80s, it was hard to “Avoid the Noid,” Domino’s hyper, bunny-eared mascot who went around trying to destroy pizza during delivery. Those who experienced him the first time around might have been happy for him to stay in the past, but the brand reincarnated him in a campaign from WorkInProgress to promote its driverless delivery.
Last year, Mountain Dew and TBWA\Chiat\Day New York tickled our nostalgia bone with a Super Bowl spot riffing off horror classic “The Shining.” The brand continued to deliver more fun-filled retro gems such as an ad revisiting another iconic ‘80s film, “Gremlins,” starring lead characters Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) and cutie Gizmo (once again voiced by Howie Mandel). Dew did it again in February, with a “found episode” of Bob Ross’ “Joy of Painting.”
Around this time last year, Geico and The Martin Agency brought back ‘90s hip-hop duo Tag Team for yet another hilarious ad reminding how the brand could help save you “hundreds on car insurance.” The spot showed the pair helping a woman out with dessert by crooning their classic song with a twist appopriate for frozen dessert: “Scoop, there it is!” The insurer brought the idea back again in the form of a branded ice cream that it gave away to fans in September.
TikTok went back into the more recent past to revisit some of the advertising world’s most famous ads for Skittles, Old Spice and Snickers, tapping its creators to reimagine them for the platform. The more modern takes didn’t quite live up to the originals, but one of Mars Wrigley's old campaigns that had not been included in the TikTok push, Starburst’s “Bus Station,” curiously got new life organically. Young fans discovered the 2007 spot’s wacky star, Little Lad, on their own and made him famous once again. Mars later jumped in to officially bring Little Lad back in the form of a Halloween costume and a new TikTok challenge.
Planters turned back time for the holidays all the way to the ‘80s in this ad starring Reginald Vel Johnson who played Sergeant Al Powell in “Diehard,” which to this day remains debated as a Christmas film. That’s one of the topics he sings about in the music video-style spot that recalls all things wonderful about the era. The campaign also included a contest giving away Planters nuts and retro swag.
Pepsi turned the clock back even further to the ‘70s with its remake of the ‘50s-themed pop culture classic “Grease,” starring Doja Cat in the role played by Olivia Newton-John. The ad promoted the brand’s new 1950s-inspired Soda Shop line and recreated the “You’re the One That I Want” scene in which Newton-John pined for John Travolta, but the new spot brings a slight twist to the plot.
Chevrolet dug into its archives and resurrected one of the lines of an iconic ‘70s campaign, “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet,” by turning it into a dish by Guy Fieri. The celebrity chef reimagined the famous words in the form of an “Apple Pie Hot Dog” that debuted at the Major League Baseball Field of Dreams game in Iowa on Aug. 12. The idea was created with Commonwealth/McCann and Weber Shandwick.
For Father’s Day this year, Carvel re-introduced its classic “Fudgie the Whale” cake, recycling the voice-over of its founder, the late Tom Carvel, in this retro-style ad.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of one of its classic toys, the Chatter Phone, Fisher-Price created a working (bluetooth) version of the phone so that adults could relive their childhood memories, while maybe also getting some real work done. The campaign, created out of Wieden+Kennedy and Weber Shandwick, promoted the phone with a slick send-up of ads promoting its more modern brethren.
Jimmy Kimmel’s “Live in Front of a Studio Audience”
Jimmy Kimmel, along with Ryan Reynolds’ agency Maximum Effort, filled our nostalgia buckets to the brim with a series of ‘80s-themed ads that aired during the late-night comedian’s special “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” rebooting classic TV sitcoms. The ads starred celebs from the era Alfonso Ribeiro (“Silver Spoons”) and Jennifer Beals (“Flashdance”) and spoofed famous spots from the era such as the “Your Brain on Drugs” PSA and Brooke Shields’ Calvin Klein ad—but the brands promoted were from Kraft Heinz, Jack in the Box and Reynolds’ Aviation Gin.