Claire Beale on Advertising: Send the Martians home, it's time for change

You could be forgiven for thinking that adland has run dry, that like the rest of us it's bankrupt. How else to explain the rampage of nostalgia swarming across our TV screens in 30-second bites?

Honey Monster's getting cosy with the Smash Martians; Bertie Bassett's buddying up to Captain Birdseye; and the Churchill dog's been sniffing around the Peperami animal in a new ad for Comic Relief that wallows in the brand icons of the advertising annals. Meanwhile, Heinz has been recutting all its old ads into a new commercial soup, Asda's bringing back its arse-slapping mums in a return to its blunt value message, and even Boursin is excavating its old ad slogan "du pain, du vin, du Boursin".

Cynics will question whether turning misty eyes to the advertising past is simply a reflection of a modern creative drought. Have ad agencies used up all the good ideas and been forced to revive some from adland's heydays? Have clients slashed budgets and agency fees so deeply that recycling commercials has become the only cost-effective solution?

Or is the trend for nostalgia a considered response to a cultural state of mind and a shrewd bit of bandwagon-jumping? Agencies will tell you it's the latter, and not just because they'd never admit to the former: nostalgia is very much of the moment. The current financial climate is fostering a back-to-basics attitude that celebrates our less complicated recent history and hankers for the innocently halcyon days of a decade or two ago. Things that are familiar, that are simple, that are old friends are particularly comforting at a time when what's happening now is scary.

So nostalgia has a fundamental appeal and it's a trend that the media is keen to manipulate. People who now control the media lens through which so many of us view the world grew up with Smash Martians and Beanz Meanz Heinz kids. They hold rich associations of blissful childhoods. Is it any wonder we're suckers for writing about these icons, putting them back into ads, making TV programmes celebrating them?

All of which is convenient for advertisers facing recession. First, nostalgia is likely to generate a nice bit of PR; commissioning journalists are likely to share the fondness for the brand icons they grew up with and know that stories about them will appeal to their audience.

And resurrecting old brand icons is a shrewd, cost-effective move in a climate where budgets are tight. The Captain Birdseyes and Honey Monsters have proven their appeal to consumers over the long haul, so they're hardly risky choices; most advertisers aren't of a mind to take risks right now.

What's more, these old brand icons have a familiarity that's been built up over years of expensive media investment, so it's cost-efficient to make that investment continue to pay dividends rather than starting again from scratch. If you see a middle-aged housewife slapping her backside on TV, you know immediately she's selling Asda; the cut-through is quicker, greater and cheaper.

So we all love a bit of nostalgia. But will it actually shift products off shelves? After all, when Woolworths went under it prompted an indulgent wave of nostalgia for the brand, but that didn't count for a jot to Woolies' bottom line. We'd rather shop online or from modern, streamlined stores.

And, like all advertising trends, they work best if you're riding the crest. Too much nostalgia and it will become like wallpaper; we'll stop taking notice. Let's be honest now, it's not even as if most of the ads we're getting gooey about were actually very good. Certainly not when set against some of the multi-media, interactive, commercials of the past couple of years.

Which is why, even though budgets might be tight and creative inspiration might be costly, going back to the past is playing it too safe.

Crisis is the perfect time to take bold decisions, try something different, to surprise and challenge. Nostalgia might be comfy, but it's also risk-averse and right now, that's quite a risk to take.

Best in Show: Sony Bravia (Fallon)

*No apologies to anyone keeping a tally of these things: this week I've chosen another ad from Fallon. It simply happens to be the agency that's come roaring off the blocks this year with some interesting, high profile and inspiring work.

Its latest Sony Bravia commercial is no exception. Footballer Kaka meets a 10-ton zoetrope and the result is stunning. You'll have to watch it on the web with creative aficionados, though (type Sony zoetrope into Youtube) because it's not out on TV here yet.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick