It’s said that there’s nothing quite like the good ol’ days and this is most evident in the re-introduction of entertainment brands into both its previously sentimental audience or a totally new younger audience yet to experience the wonders of our past. Whether it is old rocker bands making a comeback, a new film that has been replicated from an original or a mobile App based on our old childhood toys we all seem to have a longing for previously happy personal associations.
Last week I was listening to a short debate on BBC Radio 4 about Channel 4’s sequel to Raymond Briggs’ iconic UK animation ‘The Snowman’. The new film ‘The Snowman and the Snowdog’ is to be aired on TV this Christmas, 30 years after the original was released. The debate centered around whether bringing back nostalgic entertainment was a good or a bad thing. It was concluded after much discussion that although nostalgia gave audiences a personal feel-good-factor it also put a halt to the innovation and creativity of new content. I found this to be a very shortsighted way of looking at it.
I find it easier to make sense of the phenomenon by separating the content from the brand. The brand doesn’t exist until the first content is produced. After the audience experiences the content (or other associated content) they build up a picture of that brand that includes a good or bad personal association with it. When a new piece of content is then created many years later, there will be two types of potential audience; those that experienced the brand/content and those that didn’t and therefore have no knowledge of it.
An audience that knows of a nostalgic brand will carry their emotive connections onto any new content. This sets certain expectations for any new content that includes some consistency and a similar level of quality to the original. Although the producers of this content will have an easier job selling to this audience they also have more of a challenge to appease their expectations. The content therefore needs to be at least as good as their expectations in order for value to be retained or added to the brand.
An audience that does not know of a nostalgic brand will either be seeing the content for the first time with no expectations or be introduced to it by someone that does. If the audience has never heard of the brand then the process restarts with the content determining an individual’s brand perception. If they are introduced to a brand from an advocate they then inherit the introducers expectations.
Either way, the re-introduction of a positive nostalgic brand does not relieve any pressure from the content being innovative or creative. There is simply good, relevant content and bad, irrelevant content.
The majority of nostalgic entertainment brands carry a positive association because the original content was good. Assuming that the content producers follow the formula that made the original content a success and then also make it relevant to a modern audience, its likely they will produce more good content that is successful.
From the viewpoint of the industry you also have to consider that valued brands have well…value. Producing content under a nostalgic brand maximises that value financially whilst minimising the risk of failure. This is primarily because the content has already been tried and tested and has an existing advocate audience. It makes it even more attractive for nostalgic brand owners to re-release content these days because the majority of us are on social media. Social media + brand advocates = free positive awareness. Cadbury’s re-launced Wispa chocolate bar is a great example of how this works.
The best example of a successful nostalgic entertainment brand is Lego. For Lego nostalgia equals sales. From generation to generation parents buy Lego for their children based on their own positive associations of play as a child. The company is careful to keep the fundamentals of identity the same whilst also keeping the content (the Lego bricks) relevant to a new audience. This cycle goes on and on with the brand continuing to grow stronger.
In the past 10 years Lego have intelligently kept relevant by associating new Lego product sets with other successful, current youth brands such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. They can now simply recycle these associative brands to keep their image up-to-date and relevant. It’s arguable whether the youth of today, surrounded by modern media, would still play with the ‘old-school’ Lego sets. Sure, the parents would still buy them but the sales cycle would slow and the brand would be devalued.
Going back to the Radio 4 debate, I don’t believe the re-introduction of nostalgic entertainment brands is slowing the introduction of new content. These days there is more content generated in a day than can be consumed in a lifetime. There is therefore plenty of space in the market and enough talented content creators to do both. The other important point is that modern generations may not find original versions of the content relevant to them so either never experience them or try to with dislike. I’ve felt this first hand when I tried watching the original 1932 version of my favourite film Scarface (1983) and also the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica series.
The original Snowman animation has set very high expectations to a lot of us. The experience of watching it today still makes me feel euphoric, which for me is a combination of the speechless narrative, the illustration, the animation style and perfectly placed Aled Jones song. The Snowman and the Snowdog has been created by some of the original team that includes the writer-director Hilary Audus, a wonderfully experienced and creative lady I was fortunate enough to have co-judged awards with this year. She told me that although she was following a similar formula to the original she wanted to put her own spin on things and had the intention of re-making it for both the exisiting audience as well as a new one.The animation is mostly hand drawn, follows a very similar look and feel to the original and has been endorsed by Raymond Briggs himself. I’d therefore put my money on it being a great piece of content that is just as successful.
The 26-minute animation premiered on the 9th December in London and I’ve heard that the children attending found it magical and some of the older audience were moved to tears.
Personally I’d rather live in a world that was saturated in good re-introduced content than one in which there was a lot of new shit. It’s often the reason we all find ourselves saying ‘They just don’t make things like they used to.’