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 retro-styled Olympus E-P1 digital camera are all examples of successful retro marketing.

Successful retro marketing isn’t all about nostalgia. It’s about getting a new following for an old-fashioned product. The Wispa bar was reborn from an Internet campaign to bring it back. Retro cars have their own group of young buyers, passionate about the retro image, but eager for a modern car.

It is too early to say whether the Olympus E-P1, based on the original Olympus Pen series, will be successful. 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 looks perfect; it has the serious look of a top camera from the sixties. The story of the retro brand is also right. Olympus cameras in the 1960s and 1970s were compact and innovative and set new standards in design. The new Pen is also pushing boundaries: the flexibility of a SLR, combined with the convenience of a compact in a retro package.

Success in retro marketing must be based on a solid and credible brand story. It must be more than superficial and must be pursued with conviction. Retro must also appeal to young people. Older customers often don’t buy the retro story.

The Jaguar X-Type and S-type sedans were an attempt to go retro for the more mature racing car market. Both have now been abandoned by Jaguar. The automotive press didn’t particularly like either car. They scolded their retro style as “outdated”. Come on! that’s the point isn’t it? However, I think the main reason for their relatively poor performance was that Jaguar was a little shy about retro styling. Recent restylings have downplayed it. If you want to go retro, it has to be deliberate and thorough.

The new Mini, Fiat 500 and Beetle all have their own following. Of the three cars I think the Fiat 500 captured the look and feel of the original most closely. It is, however, clearly a different, larger car with substantially more power and with all modern comforts. They are likely targeting the same type of buyer as their 1960s counterparts, young trendsetters. Those shoppers have more money to spend and want something with character, but more of the simpler means of transportation.

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

Then there are retro products that have never gone away. Ray-Ban aviators were in vogue in the 1950s and 1960s and were discovered again in the 1980s. They continue to sell well today. Their pedigree is impeccable. Designed for US pilots and popular with the US military – General Douglas MacArthur liberated the Philippines wearing a pair – you can’t be more authentic.

Nostalgia has always been a strong selling point, but clearly any old product is no good. The period must be right and the story must be authentic. Has retro had its time? The answer is clearly no. Like Rock’n’Roll, retro is here to stay.

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