cultural phenomenon

Marketers Flash Back to The ‘90s


The ‘90s ended 15 years ago, but one would think we’re still in that decade judging by contemporary pop culture. From fashion to music to TV, it’s become widely apparent that Millennials are nostalgic for the decade in which many of them grew up.

In recent years, crop tops and the footwear of a bygone era have become en vogue again, and cassette and VHS tapes have experienced a resurgence. Netflix has brought back beloved shows from the time, such as Friends. Bars and gyms host trivia nights and exercise classes, all devoted to ’90s pop culture, nightclubs hold ’90s-themed dance parties. Young people are publicly declaring their love for the decade by filling their social feeds with #TBT posts celebrating their participation in this particular era.

According to The Cassandra Report: Digital, half of trendsetting Millennials like to post content that induces nostalgia on social media. While elements of the ’90s have been popping up for some time, this trend now touches so many aspects of Millennials’ lives that it has become impossible for marketers to ignore.

Young consumers’ appreciation for the ’90s is only getting stronger, as evidenced by their excitement when brands bring back favorite products from the period. Recently, Mars reintroduced Crispy M&M’s. Toymaker Just Play revived Hasbro’s Puppy Surprise, and cosmetics brand Hard Candy is reinstating its old school nail polish colors.

Likewise, dozens of ’90s TV reboots are in the works, from Powerpuff Girls and Charmed to Twin Peaks and The X-Files. Millennials’ nostalgic tendencies are so strong that they’re investing their time, money, and emotions in these revivals to find a way to return to their favorite moments of the ’90s.

Girl group TLC raised more than $430,000 crowdfunding its final album, Coca-Cola brought back Surge soda after fans campaigned for it on Facebook, General Mills relaunched French Toast Crunch following fans’ online petitions and pleas, and denim maker JNCO is bringing back its super-wide-leg jeans after a petition demonstrated consumer demand for them.

The passion for celebrating the ’90s provides this generation with a sense of comfort and security. The decade was characterized by happier, simpler times amid a mostly thriving economy. At the same time, young people were protected from the realities of the world—they didn’t experience the overflow of news coming to their personal devices—and they had far fewer responsibilities.

Now that they’ve reached adulthood, they‘re looking for ways to revisit a time when life was less complicated. They’re physically back in their childhood bedrooms alongside their ’90s possessions as high unemployment rates caused many to move in with their parents.

For members of this generation who are now parents themselves, their nostalgia has manifested in a desire to introduce their own children to the products and content they loved as children and adolescents. As a result, Gen Z is growing up with a fondness for the ’90s, too. Even though they weren’t alive to experience it, tributes to the decade have become so pronounced in youth culture that they feel equally connected to it.

Media outlets, most notably BuzzFeed, are fueling this phenomenon by devoting entire sections of its websites to nostalgic articles through which young people can get their daily fix of the decade.

While celebrations of the ’90s can seem gimmicky at times, marketers who authentically leverage this cultural phenomenon will tap into a grateful and enthusiastic young consumer group.

For example, Calvin Klein’s latest underwear ad with Justin Bieber replacing the infamous photo of Mark Wahlberg went viral. Geico’s commercial in which Salt-N-Pepa perform “Push It” earned similar praise. And last summer, Twix entertained with a Throwback Thursday campaign of short films explaining what people were doing in the ’90s that prevented the company from inventing Twix Bites sooner.

The ’90s are often viewed as the best time in recent decades, and brands that want to reflect this optimism should consider associating themselves with this positive era. Further, Millennials love to foster happiness by sharing content from and ruminating on their favorite decade. They spread nostalgic content among their peers, and brands can provide them with this form of social currency while being a source of lighthearted relief in their lives.

Emily Anatole is an Editorial Manager at Deep Focus, the digital agency for the social age, where she contributes to The Cassandra Report and Cassandra Daily.