Retro: Old Is In And Better Than Ever

Retro styling is back and it’s not just about bell-bottoms. Hand in hand with the retro appeal is the bond of nostalgia that connects the past to the present. From vintage fashion to classic car designs and 50‘s graphic design, this resurgence of retro styled products is not a coincidence. The underpinnings of the retro movement are deeply tied to the American psyche, and brands and marketing strategists are taking note.

We recently came across a suped-up car called the 789 by N2A Motors - one of the inspirations for writing this blog post. It combines the design marvels of a ‘57, ‘58 and ‘59 Chevy - all merged into one. The result is a stunning tribute to retro design and modern functionality. We see cars as the most visible expression of this trend. It’s no surprise why the Volkswagen Beetle and Transporter (commonly known as the “minibus”) are extremely popular - they bring us to a time where peace and love oozed out of windows. Unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show, the Volkswagen Buli sports the singular look and roomy interior of the old  VW bus. Luckily for contemporary consumers, they’ll enjoy traveling 186.4 miles on one battery charge and an iPad controlled entertainment system. Groovy.

Though the auto industry does the retro thing well, they are certainly not alone. The popular AMC cable network show, Mad Men, takes viewers back to the tumultuous, yet tantalizing 1960s. Garnering an impressive inventory of Golden Globes and Emmys awards, Mad Men capitalizes on our ongoing love affair with all things retro.

As part of a campaign to bring back real sugar, Pepsi is unlocking its old school designs and bringing back special edition Pepsi and Mountain Dew cans. And they’re openly being playful by adding the word “throwback” to aluminum cans. Marketers are being strategic here in tapping into the fun once had by children of the '50s and '60s when soda cost the consumer 10 cents a can.

Pepsi isn’t the only company making money on taking us back in time. Ray Ban sunglasses have a new spike in popularity within the past few years. And with a campaign called Rare Prints, the UV-conscious company has created ‘60s inspired sunglasses designs that are sure to be popular along boardwalks across the country this summer.

Our fondness for products and brands from decades like the 1950s, for example, is often associated with feelings of connection, stability and optimism. And what’s interesting is that research is backing our sensibilities for all things retro. In a 2010 study from The Journal of Consumer Research, researchers concluded that possessing nostalgic products satisfied the need to belong. The Association for Psychological Science also reported that nostalgia promotes good mental health, providing a sense of belonging and connection.

Unlike other products, styles and trends, retro styles can meet emotional needs and provide a sense of stability. It’s not just about looking kitsch and cool. Torque, not long ago, prescribed a retro stance and design for Bicycle Playing Cards as an homage to their long history of providing fun and family games. The nostalgic feelings we have when seeing playing cards, for example, is not only rooted in our personal lives, but rooted in these iconic brands that are leaders in brand messaging, advertising and profits.

This wave of retro styling shows no sign of a decline. Retro products look good, function well and make us feel better. Even for people who didn’t grow up during the mid-20th century, the dynamic connection to the American experience and culture creates a powerful lure. They connect us to our own pasts and the best of Americana.

And who knows - maybe tomorrow we’ll come into the office, meet with a client, and then have a couple of cocktails at work just like Don Draper from Mad Men. Oh wait - I think our days are set up that way. Don’t you just love how history finds a way to repeat itself?