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Peruse the lineup of recent brand collaborations and new releases, and a flood of nostalgia-driven media, products, oral histories, sequels and anniversary events will start standing out.
Kellogg’s recently partnered with Nickelodeon, and the focus was a throwback to the slime era of the 1990s. On Netflix, the latest season of Stranger Things reminds us that the series doubles as a thriller and a trip through the 80s, presenting plenty of brand collaboration opportunities along the way. Meanwhile, one of the nation's biggest music festivals of the fall is called When We Were Young.
The pace and consistency of these memory-invoking moves begs the question: Why is a consumer culture that’s always looking for what’s next so obsessed with the past?
For one perspective on what's at work here, let’s unwrap the recent exit of the Choco Taco.
On Monday, Unilever-owned Klondike announced that it was discontinuing the beloved, frozen treat that made tacos sweet.
Like many developments over the past two years, this news was deemed the result of a mismatch between supply and demand.
“Over the past 2 years, we have experienced an unprecedented spike in demand across our portfolio and have had to make very tough decisions to ensure availability of our full portfolio nationwide,” the brand wrote on Twitter.
\u201c@basicwitchxbts Unfortunately, the Choco Taco has been discontinued in both 1ct and 4ct packs. Over the past 2 years, we have experienced an unprecedented spike in demand across our portfolio and have had to make very tough decisions to ensure availability of our full portfolio nationwide.\u201d— Meg\u2077 2!3! NeverNeverFall (@Meg\u2077 2!3! NeverNeverFall) 1658575560
An outcry on the internet followed. Headlines talked of people in mourning. Many talked about not only their love for the combination of tasty dessert and Mexican staple, but also the memories associated with it.
The catch is that many more who were moved by its demise probably haven't had a Choco Taco in a while.
As The Guardian put it, “Some Twitter mourners admitted that they had not had a Choco Taco since childhood, but the pain was real.”
They remember the taste of the Choco Taco, and how that made them feel. Maybe, it even harkened back to where they were when they would eat it.
That doesn't just tap into what’s in a person's head, or their hunger. It also pulls at their heart, producing some combination of longing and satisfaction.
That's a powerful emotion for a product to inspire.
\u201cDear @Unilever \u2014 I'd like to buy the rights to your Choco Taco and keep it from melting away from future generations' childhoods.\u201d— AlexisOhanian7\ufe0f\u20e37\ufe0f\u20e36\ufe0f\u20e3 (@AlexisOhanian7\ufe0f\u20e37\ufe0f\u20e36\ufe0f\u20e3) 1658777606
As this sentiment took hold, sudden last-ditch efforts to preserve the Choco Taco emerged. US Senator Chris Murphy proposed invoking the Defense Product Act. Reddit cofounder and venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian offered to buy the rights to the product, and make more. An artist preserved it in 3D, and was hailed as a hero.
As humans, we want to hold onto that tangible connection to the past, even if we hadn't thought about it in a while. Factor in ice cream, and there's a strong chance that the memory is a joyful one.
As the news and remembrances made the rounds, rumors started emerging saying that the Choco Taco's cancellation may have been a marketing stunt. That's what happens when people want to hold onto it so badly.
Even if it's not something they seek out, knowing it's always there is comforting in and of itself.
Plus, people have seen comebacks before.
Klondike disavowed the rumors, saying the discontinuation was real. At the same time, a glint of hope emerged for some as the statement from Klondike suggested the brand was "discussing next steps."
\u201cI want to address the rumors: I\u2019m really being discontinued, it\u2019s not a PR stunt. I knew you loved me, but not THIS much. While I reflect on this outpouring of support, we are discussing next steps, including what to do with the last 912 (we counted) tacos at HQ. Stay tuned\u2026\u201d— Choco Taco (@Choco Taco) 1659029350
All the same, it had tapped into the same kind of nostalgia in a cancellation that brands hope to inspire with their new collaborations and releases. If Klondike executives were to bring it back, it feels like they could probably sell a few.
After all, you've now thought about the Choco Taco for the first time in years.
Trending in Marketing
The job market continues to hum.
The labor market continued to show strength to start 2023, as the monthly jobs report posted big numbers.
Key data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly jobs report:
- Unemployment fell to 3.4%, ticking down from 3.5% in December to remain at historic lows.
- The economy added jobs to the tune of 517,000, which bested the 2022 average of 401,000.
- Average hourly wages rose by $0.10, marking year-over-year growth of 4.4%.
The Current’s view: The labor market continues to be an economic outlier. While there are signs of consumer pullback and belt-tightening among tech companies and retailers after months of high inflation, the job picture remains bright. While tech companies and some retailers are cutting back markedly, there are few signs of the widespread “pain” that economists predicted in this indicator of the economy.
What brands and retailers are thinking: Jobs are a major indicator of demand, and the labor market continues to hum along. That means the consumer pullback is tied to choices about discretionary spending and holding off on certain purchases in the face of high prices, moreso than being unable to afford items altogether.
What the Fed is thinking: Here’s more evidence that a soft landing might be possible. The Fed has been raising interest rates to bring down inflation. There is risk that this will slow down the economy, including employment. There was some slowing in job growth in December, but this report indicates labor market softening still hasn’t happened for a sustained period, even as inflation is cooling. After the central bank scaled back its latest interest rate hike to 0.25% on Wednesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said he sees a “path” to bringing down inflation without a significant rise in unemployment. Here’s one more piece of data to bolster that belief.
Keep in mind: The labor market is still out of balance between supply and demand. This report shows a big rise in jobs and the labor force participation rate remaining the same. Job openings actually increased in December, the Labor Department found. So there a still the case. Eventually, it will likely have to come into balance. But given the unpredictability of this economic era, it’s tough to know when, or even how.