I dig retro. I dig old posters, I dig old t-shirts and I really dig old stereo equipment. I am the guy with the wife who is understandably annoyed at her husband for coming home with old, impractical crap from thrift stores. I am the dude you puzzle at for walking into a record shop purchasing a music format that has been obsolete for 30 years.
But here’s what I’ve discovered. I’m not alone. Lots of people dig retro just like me. Well, maybe not just like me. I don’t expect the rest of the world to start going out and buying up expired Polaroid film (guilty), but retro does have relevance, especially in advertising. From the vintage home-movie treatment on a Coleman camping spot, to the 1960s icons on a Schlitz billboard, we see flashes of the past everywhere we look.
So, why retro? What is it about the past that activates consumers?
The answer, in short, is nostalgia. Nostalgia is more than simply a fondness for the past. It is a longing for an idealized past, filled with fond memories that are void of pain and unhappiness. The nostalgic part of each of us tries to capture some of this idealized past symbolically through material things — a record player, a classic car or a candy bar from our childhood. By using these things to trigger happy memories, we recapture our lost innocence.
What’s fascinating about nostalgia is that in many cases we can feel a longing for something we never experienced first-hand. Young Democrats speak of the Kennedy years with glowing fondness; sports fans cheer their team while wearing throwback jerseys and consumers shop restoration hardware for stuff that was in vogue long before many of them were born. Even in our personal experiences we often filter and romanticize childhood. Truman Capote, whose childhood was fraught with neglect, is famous for writing semi-autobiographical works loaded with wistful nostalgia.
There is safety in the past. We know what to expect and we have control over how we consume it. It does not ask us to predict or keep up. It comforts and reassures — a sentiment particularly relevant to a country dealing with multiple wars, an unstable economy and high unemployment.
So yes, I dig retro. And while the 24-hour news channel droning in the background reiterates the ills of my world, I’ll be here taking respite, blasting a little Zeppelin on vinyl.