There was an excellent article in the Sunday Tribune (business section) last weekend, written by Maxim Kelly, that drew attention to the recent trend of using nostalgia for advertising purposes.


There are other examples too, loads of them, some of which I’ve written about here


  1. The new TV ad for Sprite is a pastiche of Shaft, with Sprite bottles substituted for guns.
  2. The new McDonald’s TV ads cut to a flashback of ‘the eighties’ (I’ve so far seen two versions; one is of an aerobics class, bizarrely referencing fitness)
  3. Henri Hippo has been relaunched as the icon of Ulster Bank, albeit with a more digitised style of animation than before. I recently saw copy on a Henri billboard that read ‘Remember when happiness was staying up to watch Dallas?’


So there a few notable things here.


Mc Donalds and Sprite are both global corporations, and the signifiers they light on are similarly ‘global’ (ie referring to hegemonic American popular culture). Visually, these two ads also share a very distinct gritty, ‘analogue’ quality when they’re visually quoting The Past.


Henri Hippo is a much more localised phenomenon, with a much smaller audience, and the focus on Dallas as a childhood experience narrows the demographic further – to people around my age (twenties to early thirties) who lived in Ireland at the time. It’s an unusual experience to feel so targeted by advertising, and if nothing else it really makes me interrogate my memory and experience of this time. Do I really remember it like that? Is the story I have belonging to my childhood, or someone else’s?


Ulster Bank has today brought back the iconic 1980s children’s character Henri Hippo who introduced the idea of saving to a generation of Irish children nearly 30 years ago… At the re-launch of Henri Hippo, Richard Donnan, Managing Director of Ulster Bank Retail Markets said: “Henri Hippo will be fondly remembered by a generation of Irish adults who were introduced to the concept and habit of saving through a great sense of fun. Many of them will now have their own children to whom they will want to pass on a habit that will have served them well down through the years. We want to help parents encourage and motivate their children to save.”

From here


There is something larger here about nostalgia marketing and the time cycles that seem to be involved. I don’t know how ‘new’ the use of nostalgia is in marketing, but it seems to be running on a 20 – 30 year cycle at the moment.


In 1998, Nicolas Bourriaud actually wrote about this in relation to contemporary art, pointing out how art in the 80s drew from the ‘visual effectiveness’ of 60s Pop, and art in the nineties seemed to ‘identify’ with trends from the 70s, including a sense of crisis, saying

Fashion can thus create aesthetic microclimates which affect the way we read recent history.