Why ’90s Childhood is the Ultimate Brand

Remember the Game Boy? Skip-It? War Heads? The Lite-Brite? Polly Pocket? Legends of the Hidden Temple? Surge? Of course you do. Why? Because the '90s is the ultimate brand.

At Proof, we've defined a brand like this:

A brand is big. It’s memorable. It’s not a single product, but an experience. It’s how you feel when you surf the Web on your iPhone or put on a pair of TOMS shoes. It’s the story that emerges when someone asks you where you got your shirt or what kind of car you drive.

A brand is the essence, it is the life-force. It’s much more than what you see – it’s emotional, it’s an atmosphere, an experience, a connection.

People talk about brands. Brands fill our lives because they fill our eyeballs, ears, memories, and hearts. The trick is to become one. It never happens overnight, but you know when you’ve become one. Your fans, followers, friends, and freaks will let you know.

Replace the word “brand” with “the '90s” and you’ll see what I mean. The '90s succeeded at creating an experience. It was big, memorable, and developed a connection for almost everyone who experienced childhood during that decade.

So what branding lessons can we learn from the '90s childhood?

  • Organizations need to create positive associations through every aspect of their brand. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, whether it’s selling a product or service or recruiting volunteers, what you’re marketing is a feeling. This means engaging your target audience in a big way. It means infiltrating their consciousness, becoming a part of their daily life, and echoing in their memory. If people are ultimately indifferent, you have failed.
  • Consumers want to recreate experiences. When they’ve had a positive interaction with your product or organization, they want to reconstruct that experience over and over again. As young adults, those who grew up in the '90s are constantly looking to recreate the feelings associated their childhood – from playing Mario Kart to watching Nickelodeon reruns. To this end, TeenNick, recognizing the Millennials’ demand for a recreated experience, announced a midnight-to-2 a.m. block called “The '90s Are All That,” saying:

The '90s were ground-breaking and for the young viewers, a powerful and pivotal time in their lives. Those kids who are now [in their 20s] want to bring that back.

  • A successful brand utilizes different elements that all contribute to a greater design. The '90s childhood was not about its television shows, video games, candy, or Furbys. At least not solely. The '90s childhood is a combination of many totally different elements that are simultaneously unified. The idea is for every component of our organization to contribute to the total vision.
  • As Generation Y grows up, the bond of nostalgia with the '90s gets stronger. The feeling, connection, and experience is enhanced over time… And that’s the beauty of it. Obviously, the '90s is over. Salute Your Shorts is no longer being produced and Sonic the Hedgehog has been replaced by Call of Duty, but it doesn’t matter. Done well, a brand will always resonate with people. Even after the industry moves on.

Ultimately, this is what all companies and brands need to strive to be… Not a product that needs to be sold, but an experience that shapes people at the core and perseveres through decades of change. Modern companies like Apple are in the experience business, and these companies will have lasting legacies. Just like the '90s.

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  • Matt Cheuvront

    Having spent a good part of the weekend playing NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat with my brother-in-law, and being a self-proclaimed “90s-Nick-Addict” – all while claiming Saved by the Bell to be my favorite all-time show, this post speaks directly to me.

    Getting together with any of my friends almost always leads to a nostalgic conversation about something from the 90s. How we used to cheat at “Track and Field” for the NES by hitting the mat on our hands and knees. How terrible that Chicken Limbo or Gator Golf commercial used to be…the 90s were “our” era, and, like you said, the memories are so vivid because of the brand experience the decade has forever imprinted into our psyche.

    This is exactly what any brand should strive for – the creation of an experience. Something that invokes emotion and passion. An idea that sparks a conversation. It’s those brands who tap into creating something memorable that will forever live on in our hearts and minds.

    I’ll still never understand WHY the Shrine of the Silver Monkey was so hard to put together…

  • I simply love this. With the combination of this post full of reminders of my childhood and the inescapable sinking feeling in my stomach like it’s the first day of school after Labor Day weekend, I’m feeling quite nostalgic this morning. : )

  • “The ’90s were ground-breaking and for the young viewers, a powerful and pivotal time in their lives. Those kids who are now [in their 20s] want to bring that back.”
    This is true of every generation. A lot of what I see in branding these days reminds me of my childhood. I love it!

    I think you’re spot on here, but you’re missing a larger audience. I have no idea what Polly
    Pocket is, but I do remember Pop Rocks. Every decade is a brand, be it 70’s, 80’s or whichever. It’s great that you speak to your generation, but don’t ignore us older folks who had childhoods in the 70’s or 80’s.

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