Nostalgic “Retro-Advertising” Increasingly Being Used to Target Adult Toy Collectors

While the bright colors and superheroes depicted will surely interest children, the "retro-graphics" incorporated into this new ad from Round 2 and Captain Action Enterprises, will likely appeal more to adults who fondly remember seeing similar ads in the pages of comic books back in the 1960s. (Photo: CAE)

While this advertisement’s bright colors and superheroes will surely interest children, its “retro-graphics” will more likely appeal to adults who fondly remember seeing similar ads in the pages of 1960s comic books. Other than its incorrect use of the feminine word “bevy,” this ad ROCKS! (Photo: CAE)

This new ad introduces the new Iron Man and Wolverine uniform sets, utilizing the same "retro" feel of previous CAE and R2 advertisements. (Photo: CAE)

This new Captain Action ad introduces the Iron Man and Wolverine uniform sets and utilizes “retro” type styles and graphic design . (Photo: CAE)

Selling Toys to Big Boys

It’s a quiet day at home, and you’re casually flipping through the pages of a toy magazine or idly clicking through websites on the internet. Suddenly, you stop and stare. It doesn’t have to be for long. Just long enough to think, “Hmm, there’s something about this ad…I really like it! I’m gunna have to get me one of those!” You don’t realize it, but at that moment, your subconscious ramblings have made you an advertiser’s DREAM.

Indeed, before turning the page of your magazine, or clicking out of the website, that aforementioned ad has somehow managed to make a connection with you; an all important “impression” that advertisers hope and pray for. Somehow—the ad has managed to fire your imagination, stir you to action, and spur you to reach for your wallet. Success!

How did this sudden transformation come about? Only moments earlier, you were innocently living your life, not thinking about buying anything. But now—you must buy. The reasons for your attitude change are fascinating to consumer researchers, and when it comes to selling toys to adults (especially grown men), the answer is increasingly proven to be “retro advertising.”

Sometimes "retro graphics" are used to spur sales of long dormant brands such as the venerable 1960s "Slinky" toy. It's plain, cardboard box with one-color line art illustrations stir childhood memories and invoke a simpler era of play. (Photo: James Industries)

Retro-graphics don’t have to brash and “loud” to be effective. Sometimes they’re simple and understated, such as those used to spur sales of a long dormant brand such as the 1960s “Slinky” toy. It’s plain, cardboard box with vintage, one-color, line art illustrations, immediately stir childhood passions and invoke memories of a simpler time of play. (Photo: James Industries)

How (Good) Retro-Advertising Works

There’s something familiar about a good retro-advertisment. Depending on the decade being mimicked, its graphics can be bright and bold, or muted and subtle. Regardless, they remind us of something we’ve seen before. Something that made us happy—once before. If poorly executed, they can come off as cynical attempts to manipulate our emotions. But if well done, they’ll tug at our ol’ heartstrings and ‘twang” our nostalgic nerve centers. You WILL want to buy whatever it is they’re selling!

Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of ads (and toy packaging) that are graphically influenced by the styles and designs of the 1950s and ’60s. Back then, the products being promoted were targeted exclusively to children (primarily young boys), and so the graphics and artwork used were bold, colorful and eye-catching (just what kids like to see). Nowadays, advertisers hoping to reignite memories of those days are creating ads and packages designed along similar lines—but targeted primarily to adults. Just look at Captain Action and his cohorts (see ad at top)! Biff! Bang! WOW!

Even arch-rival Mattel understands the powerful influence of nostalgic packaging. Its new "Batusi Batman" SDCC exclusive would be just another plastic batman without the amazing "TV set" packaging it's contained within. This is one of those occassions when the box is actually cooler than the toy! (Photo: Mattel, batblog)

Mattel clearly understands the powerful influence of nostalgic, retro-packaging. Its new “Batusi Batman” would’ve been just another plastic batman figure without all the amazing “TV set” packaging surrounding it. This is one of those occasions when the box is cooler than the toy! (Photo: Mattel, batblog)

One of the best "general" publication ads EVER for GIjOE. This one appeared in TIME magazine in 199

You couldn’t get much more blatantly nostalgic than this magazine ad for Hasbro’s 1990s line of Classic Collection GIjOEs. (Ad: Hasbro)

Another example of the rare full-color ads used to promote GIjOE in the late '90s. At that time, Hasbro's "Classic Collection" line was a brisk seller in stores. (Courtesy: Mark Otnes Collection)

While not a typical “retro-adverstisment,” here’s another example of the nostalgic magazine ads used to promote GIjOE in the late 1990s. (Ad: Hasbro)

At first (and even second) glance, this "Andy and George" ad is a dead-ringer for the ones produced by Hasbro in the 1960s to promote GIjOE in comic books. However, this superb example of retro-advertising was created by Dreams & Visions to promote their own line of "Sgt. Rock" GIjOE clones. Simply outstanding! (Art: Dreams & Visions)

At first (and even second) glance, this superb “Andy and George” ad is a dead-ringer for the ones originally produced by Hasbro in the 1960s to promote GIjOE in comic books. However, this modern example of retro-advertising was actually produced in 2004 by Dreams & Visions Toys to promote their own line of “Sgt. Rock” GIjOE clones. Simply outstanding! (Art: Dreams & Visions Toys)

Bottom Line: Today’s well-crafted, nostalgic toy ads and packaging make adult toy collectors feel good again whenever they see them. And of course, that’s what their creators were hoping for. CAE’s current retro-advertising for Captain Action is a prime example of this strategy, and it shows that they hope to hit the bulls-eye (market segment-wise) and prove that the most effective way to reach adult collectors is by aiming squarely for their nostalgic “FUN bone!” Ow! What was that?

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One thought on “Nostalgic “Retro-Advertising” Increasingly Being Used to Target Adult Toy Collectors

  1. Anonymous says:

    What’s coming after Hawkeye? Should be something good.

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