With the growing role of digital technology in our lives, one might think that we do not need objects anymore. After all, there is nothing more practical than an online music library or an e-book we can download in a snap. Yet, “retro” or “vintage” brands are booming. And so perhaps we are entering the “Age of Nostalgic Innovation”.
“Come backs” or revisiting past decades, are not uncommon. Iconic examples include the Grease movie (1978), a romance flick set in the 1950’s college. In fashion, “come backs” abound as shown by 1970’s flower power inspired clothing, or the recent beard craze. In music, “Synthwave”, a genre inspired by the 80’s synth pop, in strongly emerging.
And yet, this is taking place in a digital age, after we were promised convenience, any possible app in a single device and a even good conscience with the “paperless office”. Still, an average employee in the US uses 10 000 sheets of paper per year.
So, why are “retro” brands booming? In large record stores, the Vinyl section is now almost bigger than the DVD section. Why do managers collect their Moleskine booklets with their meeting notes? Even the “bio-food” movement reflects a need for trust via natural functional benefits. In drinks, the surge of craft beers and gins is not just a challenge from David to Goliath. There is a real business opportunity.
Since the 1990’s, the world has experienced a growing feeling of instability with important political changes (fall of the Berlin Wall, Trump election, Brexit) and defiance against institutions (Irak war, Wikileaks, corporation’s scandals, fake news). Living in an uncertain world is unbearable, hence the need to create certainties. This explains the growing appetite for brands that feel authentic, with stories, provenance and anchoring points, for people who love to collect, stock, exchange and possess.
At the same time, we do not want to give up on digital convenience. Digital allows to do things, in particular to share what we like in social media, like never before. This is not an issue as long as we accept that humans can accommodate paradoxes.
And so we now are seeing the rise of a new type of innovation that I would call “Nostalgic Innovation”, which combines the practicality of digital tools with the feel good factor of nostalgia. Examples in this area include the ability to print one’s digital photos in a personalised paper album, or the Polaroid Socialmatic which combines the appeal of vintage Polaroid instant print cameras with the ability to share using the camera’s built-in Wi-Fi. In music, the latest turntables (Akai BT500) now ship with an USB interface to load music on any computer.
The Age of Nostalgic Innovation is here to stay, simply because we want and can now have the best of everything: safety, security as well as novelty and practicality. This is going to give rise to very interesting products and ideas. Welcome to the Age of Nostalgic Innovation.