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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
New advertising opportunities are being beta tested for in-store audio and product demos.
Retail media’s fast growth isn’t only limited to increasing spend. The advertising itself is also poised to appear in more places beyond ecommerce marketplaces, and even beyond the web.
The latest example comes from Walmart Connect, which is the retail media arm of the world’s largest retailer.
Walmart shared details on testing that it is completing for in-store retail media. To this point, Walmart Connect has been considered the advertising platform for Walmart’s ecommerce site. But these tests indicate that’s poised to expand.
Stores present a potent opportunity for Walmart. It has 4,700 big box locations around the U.S., and customers returned to them in droves last year. In 2022, 88% of the retailer’s customers visited Walmart stores.
Walmart Connect already has already dipped a toe into in-store advertising, with a TV wall, self-checkout ads and integrated marketing. The new pilots aim to take a step further.
“The next frontier of retail media is in-store experiences, and it’s one we’re excited to chart,” Whitney Cooper, head of omnichannel transformation at Walmart Connect, wrote in a blog post on the new tests. “But it’s still an emerging opportunity for us, as we continue to test what serves customers best and which solutions are scalable to Walmart’s size.”
Here’s a look at the two new offerings currently under beta test:
Walmart suppliers will be able to integrate product demos into campaigns across in-store and digital environments.
Product demos aren’t new to store floors, but Walmart Connect is seeking to give them an update that blends digital and physical experiences.
“Part of our test is how to enhance the omnichannel experience by bridging the physical back to digital: For example, by pairing a demo cart with QR codes that link back to a curated Walmart.com landing page so customers can find inspiration and shop their list all in one spot,” Cooper wrote.
Walmart is currently offering 120 demos at stores each weekend, and plans to scale to 1,000 by the end of 2023.
Walmart Connect will now offer advertising placements on Walmart’s in-store radio network. Suppliers will have the option to purchase ads by region or store, enabling targeting of key markets.
“This is the first time brands will be able to speak directly to Walmart customers through this medium,” Cooper writes. “These ads also create a new upper-funnel touchpoint for brand marketers and out-of-home (OOH) buyers to create awareness, because in-store audio is about connecting with customers wherever they are in the store — they don’t have to pass the brand in the aisle.”
With the tests, we’ll be watching for how this advertising is measured, and whether Walmart Connect is tracking impact across different types of formats, and not just a single campaign.