2023 was a year filled with marketing campaigns that deployed heritage in a variety of ways, including in-your-face nostalgia, sophisticated references and reinterpretations of beloved brands and campaigns. Regardless of the execution, brands dug deep into their pasts to engage, celebrate and educate internal and external audiences alike.
As we look forward to what’s in store in 2024, the heritage marketing trends we’ll be watching are: authenticity, nostalgia and engaging the collective.
Merriam-Webster named “authentic” its 2023 word of the year (if you haven’t checked out our CEO’s take on the word, check it out here), and we don’t see it going away anytime soon. Why? Because what’s real and true, whether to one’s self or to an organization, resonates.
2023 provided us with some incredible examples of authenticity in brand heritage marketing. Here are some of our favorites.
Adidas Originals: “We Gave the World an Original. You Gave Us a Thousand Back”
In a triptych celebrating the Originals Superstar, Samba and Gazelle shoes, Adidas skillfully referenced each silhouette’s origin story. In the Gazelle spot, a sports announcer calls out, “It’s Wilma Rudolph, leaving her mark on this great sport forever.” Wilma Rudolph, a Tennessee-born, mid-century American Olympian, famously wore the shoe during her athletic achievements. Then a protagonist reminiscent of Rudolph begins to run through time, passing the culturally relevant moments that made the Gazelle an icon.
Why it works: Adidas Originals were created as performance footwear for athletes. Over time, as consumer habits shifted, so did their cultural relevance and niche—into skate culture, fashion and more. This is authentic to the brand, its history and the audiences represented.
Source: GAZELLE | adidas Originals
To celebrate its storied history and ever-present relationship with youth culture, Pepsi launched a series of brand activations, brand ambassador content, a modern retro-inspired rebrand and an anniversary campaign. By pulling threads from the past, present and future, Pepsi leveraged its milestone into a 125-day campaign—a truly pivotal moment for the brand.
Why it works: Pepsi’s omnipresence in popular and youth culture provided the brand with the momentum to celebrate its milestone while confidently looking to the future. Its 125-days campaign was perfectly timed to conclude on New Year’s Eve 2023, a traditional time to look to and anticipate the future.
Timberland 50th: “This is Not a Boot”
In celebration of the iconic yellow boot’s 50th anniversary, Timberland partnered with Highsnobiety to produce a 45-plus minute documentary. Through this long-format content and subsequent activations, Timberland told its authentic brand story, including its origin story, innovative process, global expansion and cultural adoption and relevance.
Why it works: Knowledge is cultural currency, so the brand’s expanded story is a fantastic way to educate consumers, encouraging them to become brand enthusiasts and advocates.
Nostalgia has been a trend for the better part of a decade, so experts have had a long time to think and write about why it’s so effective—whether that’s because people want to feel safe and secure during times of turmoil and change (such as during the COVID-19 pandemic) or because it’s validating to share childhood experiences with members of similar generational cohorts. As we look to the years to come, we don’t see nostalgia going away any time soon (check out our podcast on the psychology of nostalgia here). However, how companies and brands deploy and reinterpret nostalgia continues to evolve: Some do so by leveraging an obscure footnote to evoke a larger cosmic universe (😉), while others deploy future nostalgia to make innovations and technological advancements feel more familiar.
Here are some of our favorite examples of the use of nostalgia in brand heritage marketing.
McDonald’s had a banner year for leveraging nostalgia, using its original brand characters like Grimace—whose hyped birthday mid-year made headlines—as well as the highly anticipated launch of CosMc’s, slated to be a concept chain and conceived from a mid-1980s out-of-this-world McCharacter.
Why it works: The remixed nostalgia speaks to McDonald’s consumer base and key audiences such as millennials. As the company noted in a recent press release: “Inspired by nostalgia and powered by a menu of bold, refreshing beverages and tasty treats, CosMc’s is landing earthside for us humans to enjoy.”
While the whole year featured a variety of content in celebration of 75 years of PUMA, we’re partial to the brand’s “FOREVER. CLASSIC” campaign. The ’70s-styled shoot by Kendall Bessent featured key heritage silhouettes, including the PUMA Suede, Cali, Mayze and more.
Why it works: The elevated execution of “FOREVER. CLASSIC” isn’t an in-your-face nostalgia play but rather one that offers a wink and a nod—and an invitation to learn more about PUMA, its silhouettes and the wearers that continue to reinterpret and breathe relevance into the brand.
Get Ready | Apple Vision Pro
Apple is no stranger to utilizing collective memory and nostalgia in their campaigns, including the “Think Different” campaign that featured many of the innovators of the 20th century and the “Hello | iPhone” launch—and the brand’s recent “Get Ready | Apple Vision Pro” is no different. The half-minute spot features clips from “Young Frankenstein,” “Back to the Future,” the Star Wars franchise, “Peanuts,” “Up” and so many more!
Why it works: The video uses eyewear—in the forms of binoculars, goggles, superhero helmets and masks, and more—to travel seamlessly through time, space, genres and characters. When it pivots to the new technology, the audience’s fondness for those classic films and franchises lingers thanks to collective cultural nostalgia (and, to get meta, the spot even uses a similar format to Apple’s 2007 “Hello | iPhone” launch).
Engagement reigns supreme today as a means to reach, create, and maintain audiences and niche communities. Increasingly, consumers want to see their individual experiences reflected in brand narratives. The pie isn’t finite but rather infinite: There’s enough room for all of us, and this trend provides brands with a great opportunity to engage the collective in new and meaningful ways.
At the same time, our society has fewer and fewer collective moments, with fragmentation showing up in a myriad of ways. That just means it’s even more important to create shared experiences as a way to reinforce collective memory, cultural cohesion and community engagement.
In 2023, brands found ways of engaging the collective during milestone celebrations, as a collective way to give back and even in a monumental big-screen moment. Here are some of our favorites.
2023 marked the American multinational financial services company’s 50th anniversary. To celebrate the occasion, Charles Schwab launched a number of targeted initiatives, including an online innovation, a brand activation in partnership with Ford and PGA, and a client survey. “The Wisdom of the Crowd” included diverse perspectives from 3,000 clients who’ve been with the firm since 2000 or earlier. The survey revealed key insights to their continued success as a firm.
Why it works: The firm focused on its key audiences and channels of activation. Leaning in via a survey of clients emphasizes their importance to teh institution’s experiences and perspectives. By reinforcing its positioning as a pioneer in market access, financial literacy and more—as well as by adding a 50th touch to its sponsorship of the PGA—Charles Schwab differentiated itself from the competition.
To celebrate a century of silk scarves, the New York City–based family-owned design house created Echo100—a collaboration with 100 creators representing various artistic disciplines to design 100 scarves marking the company’s 100 years in business. This product-centric campaign remains fresh with weekly limited-edition scarf releases, and $100 from the sale of each scarf is donated to a nonprofit organization of its creator’s choice—for up to $1,000,000 in charitable giving.
Why it works: The campaign is authentic to the brand’s story while inclusively celebrating creativity and beauty, building community and giving back.
For more about Echo’s brand story, check out its story page here.
While “Barbie” could have worked as an example for any of our trends, we felt that engaging the collective was the most fitting category. Mattel skillfully convened multiple generations to reflect on and find meaning in the feminist spirit of Barbie and the shortcomings of the real world. It captured the zeitgeist for many who have played with, measured themselves against, and aspired to be a (in my case, Space) Barbie.
Why it works: The movie includes a very diverse ensemble, many of whom are Barbies, and in doing so widens the aperture to include numerous audiences. It also provides a very accurate commentary on what it’s like to live within the constraints of societally endorsed gender norms. And movie watching is a shared experience, providing viewers like myself with the opportunity to discuss our own experiences, including the Barbies we had as children and our feelings as middle-aged women. To think a children’s toy company brought us this opportunity 🤯
As we hit our stride in 2024, we’ll be keeping our fingers on the pulse of brand heritage and will report back on how companies are capitalizing on these trends—as well as those that will no doubt emerge over the course of the year. Stay tuned!