Nostalgiotism

In ad school, they teach you that advertising seeks to solve a problem. From the brand perspective, it could be low awareness, bad associations or simply, sell more ____. From a cultural perspective, it could be that adolescents are using spray on deodorant like cologne (true story), or that women struggle with body image. And of course, solving a cultural problem benefits a brand, because that brand becomes the answer.

In the past year, a creative trend in advertising has risen as an answer to the national doubt spawned by the recession. It’s nostalgiotism, the grey area, full of honor and triumph, where nostalgia and patriotism overlap. And it’s everywhere.

I remember walking into the TV room on Super Bowl Sunday moments before Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” spot played. In silence we watched a car drive through the gloomy industrial city as the gruff-voiced storyteller on screen began:

“What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life?” he asked.

“Well I’ll tell yah, more than most. Yah see, it’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel. Add hard work and conviction, and a know how that runs generations deep in every last one of us, that’s who we are. That’s our story” he answers.

The voice-over was referring to Detroit, but plenty of Americans outside the Motor City could relate to “hell and back.” They understood that in recent years Detroit’s struggle had become the whole nation’s struggle. The commercial’s answer, the “defense of a city, an industry and a way of life,” as Tim Nudd called it, let a lot of viewers feel proud of, and hopeful for, the traditions of the American auto industry…and in turn, America. Take that, recession!

Fast-forward to this fall, and Mother NY took on a nostalgiotic voice in its web campaign for the Chevy Centennial. The first webisode of “The Road We’re On,” introduces Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, the small town home to one of the oldest Chevy Dealerships in the world.

Beginning with sentimental stories from the locals, the music turns thoughtful about two minutes in and an older woman quietly says: “A growing plant has roots. And it can’t go anywhere without them. If you don’t know where your roots are, how can you move forward?”

Boil down the (well-done) copywriting and once again, you’ve got America’s past giving hope to its future.

And then, mere days after the Chevy campaign launched, the new Carhartt spot aired. Once more, a gravelly, salt-of-the-earth voice saluted “the people who built the country, who rely on themselves to get things done.”

The ad industry’s bent for nostalgia during hard economic times is a well-documented paradigm. This version though, this particular mixture of nostalgia and patriotism, goes beyond that. It seems to be answering the question, “is America doomed?” “Are we more doomed than last time when we thought we were doomed?”

The Chicken and Egg dilemma in advertising asks, do ads create culture or does culture creates ads?

So, do the ads above create a new way of thinking during the recession? (maybe so.) Or are they more a reflection of an American spirit, one that doesn’t even need to be dramatized during a coffee shop brainstorm? (definitely so.) In my own experience as a copywriter, it’s been far more natural for me to create something based on a cultural truth, than it has for me to create something that seeks to force a “truth” onto humanity. I, along with thousands of YouTube commentators, got chills while watching the Chrysler spot because it brought something to light that had recently gone dark. It held up a mirror at exactly the right angle to remind us all that America has been, still is, and will be again a home we can be proud of.

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