Retro marketing is about using the past to sell the present. The new Beetle, the reintroduction of the Wispa bar, Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, and the latest Olympus E-P1 retro-style digital camera are examples of successful retro marketing.

Successful retro marketing is about more than nostalgia. It’s about getting new followers for an old-style product. The Wispa bar was reborn from an internet campaign to bring it back. Retro cars have their own band of young buyers, enthusiasts of the retro image, but who want a modern car.

It is too early to say whether the Olympus E-P1, based on the original Olympus Pen series, will succeed. It has the ingredients to make it a modern cult object. The original Olympus Pen was a small but advanced camera, the new Pen is the same. Its retro style hits the mark; it has the serious look of a top camera from the 1960s. The history of the retro brand is also right. The Olympus cameras of the 1960s and 1970s were compact and innovative, setting new standards in design. The new Pen also pushes the limits: the flexibility of an SLR, combined with the convenience of a compact in a retro package.

Success in retro marketing must be based on a strong and credible brand story. It has to be more than skin deep and pursued with conviction. Retro also needs to appeal to young people. Older customers don’t usually buy the retro story.

The Jaguar X-type and S-type saloons were an attempt to go retro for the more mature executive car market. Both have now been removed by Jaguar. The auto press didn’t like it either because particularly. They chided his retro style as ‘old-fashioned’. Let’s go! that’s the whole point right? However, I think the main reason for its comparatively poor performance was that Jaguar was a bit shy about retro styling. Recent facelifts played it down. If you want to go retro, it has to be deliberate and thorough.

The new Mini, Fiat 500 and Beetle have their own fans. Of the three cars, I think the Fiat 500 has most closely captured the look of the original. It is, however, clearly a different car, larger with substantially more power and with all the modern conveniences. They are probably targeting the same type of buyer as their sixties counterparts, young trendsetters. Those shoppers have more money to spend and want something with character, but more than the most basic form of transportation.

Wispa was a reissue of a Cadbury’s chocolate bar from the 1980s. Cadbury’s dropped Wispa after a rebranding, but a successful internet campaign showed there was still a market for it. Wispa sales had plummeted, but as a retro product it has a new following and Cadbury’s will soon revive Wispa Gold, a bar from the 1990s.

Then there are the retro products that never went away. Ray-Ban Aviators were all the rage in the ’50s and ’60s, and were rediscovered in the ’80s. They continue to sell well today. His pedigree is impeccable. Designed for US pilots and popular with the US Army – General Douglas MacArthur liberated the Philippines with a pair – it doesn’t get more authentic.

Nostalgia has always been a strong selling point, but clearly any old product won’t do. The period has to be correct and the story has to be authentic. Has retro had its day? The answer is clearly no. Just like Rock’n’Roll, retro is here to stay.

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