#TBTV: Nostalgia Now Trending

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Posted on March 2, 2016, at 11:30 a.m.
by Elizabeth Broussard.

It’s happening: TV today is stuck in the 90s. Well, maybe not stuck — just a little preoccupied.

For many scrunchie-wearing, MTV-obsessed teens, the 90s were a golden age of television. From “Friends” to “Seinfeld,” the laughs were hard-hitting and the good times kept coming. Afternoons were spent catching up on the latest Tiger Beat celebrity gossip, and nights were for discussing whether or not Corey and Topanga would ever realize that they’d been in love all along. It was a comfortable time. It was a safe time. It was a time uninterrupted by tweets and Facebook notifications.

Netflix caught on to this 90s trend pretty quickly and on Feb. 26, the online streaming service premiered a 13-episode remake/spinoff of the feel-good, family sitcom, “Full House.” Reactions about the show’s return were mixed, but everyone was eagerly awaiting it’s arrival.

After a successful eight-season run, “Full House” concluded in 1995 with a series finale that boasted 24.3 million viewers. But now, critics and fans alike question whether or not the show will be able to hold its own in a new generation. There is, however, one emotion that “Full House,” and now “Fuller House,” taps into, which will always keep audiences coming back: nostalgia.

Hillary Busis, deputy entertainment editor at Mashable.com, said that “’Full House’ is nostalgia about the concept of nostalgia itself.” As she explained, even though the show first took off in the 90s, a majority of its cultural references were from decades before (think Joey’s Bullwinkle impression and Jesse’s obsession with Elvis). The show managed to merge the childhoods of two different generations: 90s kids and 90s parents. And just as “Full House” always harkened back to a bygone era, “Fuller House” will too.

That’s the first lesson this beloved sitcom can teach us: Nostalgia works.

Today’s PR professionals constantly try to find new ways to cut through the clutter so their messages will be heard. However, it may not always be about giving an audience something cutting-edge or innovative. Perhaps a shoutout to a favorite childhood cartoon is all it will take for a campaign to go viral. Nostalgia is universal and elicits a response within every individual.

“Everyone likes being reminded of the things they liked when they were kids,” Busis said when referring to nostalgia in entertainment. “I think that that’s an easy way to connect with an audience.”

With that reality in mind, although nostalgia may not be the shiny, new marketing tactic today’s professionals keep looking for, it can’t be ignored. When used in the right context, this emotion can have people reaching for products they’ve never even thought about buying before.

So, let’s reframe this discussion: “Full House” is our brand. Here are four things it can teach us about incorporating nostalgia into PR strategies.

Know your audience

“Fuller House” knew that it will only be reaching a small percentage of the young, millennial audience, so it focused more on what the old fans want to see. Verne Gay, television critic at Newsday, is wary of reboots that try too hard to join a new decade they may not necessarily belong in.

“If you ‘update’ too much, you run the risk of making a brand new show,” Gay said. “And if you update too little, it feels dated and threadworn.”

When considering nostalgia, the entertainment industry and brands alike must understand what their audiences will respond to and focus on that. For example, if a brand is young and has a young audience, a campaign focused on nostalgia may not be the best route. The emotion can only be fully utilized when a brand has a very specific connection to an audience in the past. For example, in 2011, Wendy’s revived its “Where’s the beef” slogan that resonated with fast food fans from the 80s. They loved it.

Quality is key

It’s no secret that in the world of television, some reboots have soared, while others have fallen flat. Why? Quality has a lot to do with success. Remakes must remind people why they loved a show in the first place and should put just as much care into developing the “updated product” as they did the original.

As Busis said, “If something makes people feel the same way that the original made them feel, then that’s what you’re looking for. It’s all about capturing the spirit of the original – whatever that may be.”

The same goes for branding: Quality must be present in order to evoke emotion.

You can’t ignore the present just for the sake of the past

In a nostalgic campaign, the past and present have to intersect seamlessly. “Full House” and “Fuller House” accomplish this goal by weaving in both old and new cultural references. Similarly, brands must be able to relate to what’s going on in today’s culture, while reminding audiences of a simpler time.

Volkswagen did an exceptional job utilizing this strategy in its Star Wars commercial. It references today’s technology and respectfully nods to one of the 20th century’s most recognizable franchises. Commercials like this one inadvertently show how the past impacts the present and how the present impacts the future; it can connect multiple generations in a powerful way.

Nostalgic references aren’t necessarily for capturing a new audience. Rather they’re for honoring and engaging the old. They’re a way of saying “thank you” and, thus, will never be outdated.

In the words of Verne Gay, “If you grow up with something, and that ‘something’ was a good and gentle part of your life, and which in some ways even reminds you of other good and happy parts of your life, then there’s a certain human eagerness to re-connect.”

With that being said, I have just four words for anyone who’s thinking about a trip down memory lane: You got it, dude!

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