Saturday, August 27, 2011

Retirement Issues - Whose Nostalgia Is it Anyway?

A side bar in this week’s Advertising Age made me sit up and take notice. The main article was on the Pan Am brand and new TV programs scheduled for this fall that are tapping into a nostalgia trend. On its face, this is nothing to write home about. Or more to the point, nothing to blog about. What caught my eye in the side bar was the elaboration about nostalgia.

Before I plunge into that, let me provide some context. Influenced in part by the success of the AMC TV series Mad Men about the advertising business in the sixties, at least two new shows on major networks this fall hark back to that same era. One is Pan AM (ABC.) The other is The Playboy Club (NBC.)

I’ve seen the promos for these shows. They remind me that I wanted to be an airline stewardess (that’s what they were called back then) because I longed to travel the world, but I wasn’t tall enough. Even as the height requirements dropped yearly as airline travel exploded, they never got close to 5’ 2” in stocking feet. (And yes, we always wore stockings. Pantyhose had not yet been invented.) Even in heels I would barely have stood higher than the beverage cart. “Has anyone seen the stew?” would have echoed up and down the aisle. (And yes, there was only one aisle back then.)

One of the first Playboy Clubs was about a half hour from my home, but I never had a desire to be a bunny. Despite what you’re thinking and although true, that was not because I failed to meet the minimum physiological requirements for that profession, too. Likewise it was not because they didn’t make bunny tails sufficiently poufy to cover my ample posterior. (We could have clumped three of them together, after all.)

Enough about my anatomy. Let’s talk nostalgia. The Ad Age sidebar by Brian Steinberg opined: “…nostalgia is a powerful lure to reach the 40-something… upper end of the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 audience…” Bad enough he’s rubbing it in our faces that after age 50, we’re not considered valuable targets anymore, but it gets worse.

Steinberg quotes Denis Riney, a brand consultant, with a point worth bringing to the forefront in this nostalgia discussion. “Brands like Pan Am and Playboy are emotional signposts that transport us back to an era when America was No. 1.” Riney goes on to reference “the swagger of the Rat Pack era” and what was then considered a classy lifestyle.

Hang on. Steinberg just said that the networks are using nostalgia to lure 40-somethings, but those “nostalgia” shows are about the sixties and seventies. The sixties are when the Sinatra Rat Pack was swaggering, too. The oldest 40-somethings were still having bed-wetting accidents in the sixties and the youngest were just popping out of their mothers’ ovens in the early seventies.

The same advertisers that cast us aside like a pair of old saddle shoes are now coopting our nostalgia. They can’t seriously believe that shows about those decades are going to provide “emotional signposts” for these kids. Apparently they do.

Google “emotional signpost” and you’ll find pages about the stages of labor (as in popping out babies,) and links to YouTube videos for a song of that title by a techie musician who goes by Gannon. These sites are far more likely to be of interest to 40-somethings than Pan Am stewardesses or Playboy bunnies. Hello, advertisers, are you listening?

Enough, I say! I have absolutely no desire to watch either Pan Am or The Playboy Club. But if those of us over 50, and especially those over 60 and 70, watch these shows in large enough numbers, we can mess up the audience delivery metrics big time.

The networks will likely guarantee their advertisers some nostalgic percentage of viewers in that coveted 40-something audience. The actual figures, skewed by all of us, dear readers (or rather, viewers,) will be vastly depressed for the coveted group, and wonderfully inflated for the age group that truly owns this nostalgia. The advertisers may actually schedule some ads that are targeted to us, if they can figure out what those should be.

Here are some hints. Where did Pan Am fly in the sixties and seventies and what travel bargains can get us there today? If you put Giada De Laurentiis in a bunny costume in my kitchen, what fabulous dish would she be cooking and where can we find the ingredients? What kind of wine should we be drinking with that meal and out of what shape glass?

If advertisers still don’t pay attention to us, we should speak out with one voice and tell them where they can stick their emotional signposts. I’ll drink to that.

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