Is it art? Or are we wishing it was 1990?_
Colleen Merwick Head of Brand Strategy at AgencyTK
Amongst all the Christmas fanfare and joy, you might have seen something different, something unexpected that brought a smile to your face. For me (the oldest Millennial according to Forbes, or to some a Xennial, those trapped between Gen X and Millennials 1977-1983), it was pure genius. A perfect blend of nostalgia, the 90s and Christmas magic. I am referring to the Google Assistant Home Alone Again 60-second spot, putting Macaulay Culkin back into his most famous role as Kevin McCallister in North America’s highest-grossing Christmas movie of all time.
The remake of Home Alone, a 90s classic, was perfectly timed to match the Christmas season and electronic gift-buying trends.
What makes the ad magic is the perfect storm of Christmas and product relevance combined with seeing Kevin grown-up, re-enacting the most famous movie scenes. Then there’s the added bonus that you can continue the magic in the comfort of your own home by saying specific movie catchphrases to your Google Assistant, bringing Home Alone to your home.
So why is an ad that seems like such a no-brainer only happening now? And why aren’t we seeing an influx of other brands jumping on the 90s nostalgia bandwagon? Well, Google isn’t leading this trend, but they do seem to be one of, if not the first major brand to be channelling the 90s.
Consider fashion designers like Balenciaga with their throw-back chunky shoes and Burberry with their 90s-inspired jeans.
Many of us daydream for the comfort of our childhood and the absence of responsibilities – our carefree selves at the park, watching cartoons after school and the general mundane but joyous moments of life. Ironically all the smells, songs, movies and other happenings that trigger childhood associations and our nostalgia for them actually has nothing to do with specific memories, but rather it’s an emotional state that we desire to reconnect with.
Nostalgia is a universal feeling. Decades fall separately or encompass all of our most impressionable years as small children and teenagers. We place emotional feelings with these timeframes and choose to idealise the past in retrospect. We attach ourselves to memories of happiness to give us faith in the future. And with so many unknowns (Brexit), instability (Trump) and movements (#metoo), is it any wonder that 90s references are popping up everywhere? Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” song references classic 90s movies like Mean Girls while Charli XCX in“1999” brings back other artists’ 90s song lyrics like Britney’s “Hit me baby one more time” and references other 90s pop culture like clothing, people and movies.
For those of us who are in the mainstream (i.e. not a celebrity or fashion designer), 90s TV shows are also making a comeback. Friends is now one of the most popular shows to stream on Netflix, so much so that they just increased their payment from $30 million/year to $100 million to keep it on Netflix this year.
Is it any wonder that Google released their Home Alone Again ad to tap into the collective love of the 90s? In pop culture today 90s nostalgia is being celebrated and referenced almost more than the present day. Google searches for 90s clothes (cue chokers, Adidas Superstars and Baby G watches) are up and we are turning to reruns of Friends for comedy and comfort. The 90s seem to be the last decade that has the ability to bring people together in a collective sigh. Early 2000s and 2010s have no name. There’s no obvious collective fashion or sound to instantly trigger nostalgia for these decades. Older Millennials born in the late 70s and 80s will have lived their troubled teenage years in the 90s, yet many leading the 90s nostalgia bandwagon (like Grande) were born in the 90s and therefore only lived their early childhood during this decade, yet so many younger Millennials like her love the 90s nonetheless.
So is it that social media is creating the perfect storm, while also being the mechanism, to trigger and share nostalgia especially from the 90s? Or is it because the decade with no name makes it easier for us to reject and rewind further into the 90s? Is it escapism from the present? A personal form of expression? Or were the 90s really the best decade ever? No matter the catalyst, the 90s nostalgia foundation has been laid and it’s only a matter of time before other brands like Google cash in on this collective feel-good, nostalgic inspiration.