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25 & 26 MARCH 2020


How Brands Can Ride the Stranger Things Eighties Wave

Our culture nowadays is one of remixing and reworking older things, presenting them in a fresh way. Those kids who grew up in the Eighties are now the people creating art, fashion and films. With the US population alone numbering over 78 million Millennials, this demographic is a key one to target for advertising. For instance, the popular Eighties-themed TV show, Stranger Things has dominated Netflix and internet chatter amongst Millennials for months. One notable reason behind this success seems to be its Eighties throwback style, appealing to Millennials’ earliest pop culture memories; and it’s not alone.

Style it out

Topshop, a large UK retail fashion chain is a brand who are constantly targeting the Millennial demographic, and seem to have jumped at the chance to team up with Netflix for the latest line ‘Topshop X Stranger Things’.

While the line carries some Stranger Things branded items, the core line of items are Eighties-inspired clothing without any clear Stranger Things branding. The collection subtly applies the aesthetic of the Eighties, while maintaining today’s fashion trends. Unlike other uses of the Eighties theme, it’s not completely in your face, and the collection stands on its own.

Assemble your squad

Domino’s Pizza has also used the Eighties aesthetic subtly, while also drawing on another theme so prevalent in Stranger Things, groups of friends, in its “The official food of squads” campaign.

By mixing the Eighties clothes with a Noughties song (P. Diddy’s Bad Boys For Life), the ad resonates with the whole spectrum of ages in Dominos’ 16-34 target audience. The unity of the nerdy Eighties ‘squad’ is juxtaposed with more modern music and everyone’s favourite 2017 trend, fidget spinners.  

Having the squad in the starring role capitalizes on the overtone of Stranger Things, whose own protagonists are united by their friendship. While showing no other signs of repeating what the show has done, it sets itself apart from such because the connection is discreet, again, not ramming it down the viewer’s throat. This ad is a good example of ‘remixing’ as it uses a small feature of the show but brings a lot of new ideas to the table.

Beware nostalgia without reinvention

A keynote is that brands must use the Eighties theme thoughtfully, especially when borrowing elements from successful TV shows like Stranger Things, executing it only if it fits well with their brand identity. It’s not just about throwing in the proverbial kitchen sink of references to the era, but selecting poignant moments people – and here specifically millennials – will remember, to make them nostalgic.

In a sea of reruns and reboots, the use of nostalgia has been an enduring characteristic in advertising for a long time. But as it’s exploited more and more, the public will start to engage with it less and less. Millennials have now become savvy to an obvious pluck on the nostalgic heartstring. Brands, therefore, need to reiterate and reinvent to ensure their creatives stay fresh, and actually resonate with a modern audience, rather than just nodding to their interests.

Adding in contemporary cultural components and new technologies can create a refreshing mix with the recognisable nostalgic foundation. With the Eighties beginning to tire, is it now time for the Nineties to take centre stage in advertising? I can see it now, Augmented Reality Tamagotchis and Spice Girls iPhone X cases everywhere.