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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