Connecting the past with the present, the old generation with the new The Retro Craze

The retro craze is sweeping through today’s modern-day world. Much more than just a passing phase, this new craze is even changing industrial indexes. Let’s take a look at the background of this craze, notable success stories by industry, points of overlap between the past and present, and the future impact of the retro style.

Retro culture thriving in the digital era

The far-reaching popularity of the retro culture is a real-life testament to the saying, “memories are beautiful.” The term “retro” is short for “retrospect.” In this era of cutting-edge technology, where AI-based ChatGPT can write papers and draw pictures more accurately than most people, what is the psychological appeal of the retro culture? People are likely drawn to the retro culture because they wish to experience nostalgia, happiness, and fun by reminiscing about past times.

Yet, it is interesting to note that the retro culture seems to especially appeal to Generation MZ, who have not directly experienced key aspects of the retro culture. To this generation, “retro” is part of the vintage sensibilities that they have experienced indirectly through stories they heard from their parents or in TV or movies, or is something filled with elements that are fun in and of themselves. There are quite a few Generation MZers who are now keen followers of the retro movement. According to some, one of the reasons the retro trend is popular is because the past stands in stark contrast to today’s sad reality, one that is marred by the pandemic, climate change, inflation, and societal uncertainties. As such, many people seem to find comfort in the retro culture.

Examples of the retro craze by industry

Retro sensibilities are becoming a key part of marketing strategies for different industries. Marketers are applying retro designs to ordinary products to give them a competitive edge and coupling these designs with touching and emotional stories. In the modern-day world, there are a wide variety of products, and technologies have become standardized, causing people to quickly lose interest in any product or technology that isn’t uniquely distinct from others. In this context, “retro” designs act as a type of universal cheat code to distinguish one product from another.

Retro designs are even being applied widely in the field of electronics. The renowned Italian home appliance brand Smeg is famous for its retro line. Smeg infuses retro sensibilities into all its products, including its refrigerators, coffee machines, and dishwashers. Smeg’s milk frother “MFF01,” with its steel body and chrome finish combines a retro look with modern, innovative technology to accommodate the tastes of modern consumers. Shinil Electronics similarly recreated its old, original electric fan, which is quickly became popular as an interior design accessory.

The sector that is making the most active use of retro marketing is probably the food industry. Some companies have relaunched past products or have introduced new products in collaboration with other brands. Recently, Dunkin and SPC Samlip launched the “Traditional Full Moon Donut.” This is a reinterpretation of the “Full Moon” cake that was launched in 1976 and was popular among consumers for nearly 50 years. Gompyo, a Daehan Flour Mills brand, is being used in diverse collaborations with other brands thanks to its cute signature character. Going beyond sikhye, makgeoli, and snacks, the brand has collaborated with Glasslock to produce grill pans and airtight containers, which are quickly gaining popularity.

The automobile industry is also embracing the retro trend. Korea’s first original car design, the “Pony,” is now being reborn again after 50 years as the concept car the “Pony Coupe” which adopts the original car’s outer appearance. The “Grandeur” line, once a symbol of wealth, also jumped onto the retro bandwagon with “The all-new Grandeur,” adding cutting-edge technology to the vehicle’s unique angular appearance.

In the streets, it is not difficult to find fashionistas following Y2K fashion styles or scouring vintage clothing shops. For retro followers, wired earbuds or headphones are replacing wireless earphones, and LP players are a hot-ticket item. People are even making a point to visit long-established restaurants, taking souvenir photographs while wearing retro fashions. Although retro is a personal choice, it’s clear that it has become a subculture in Korean society.

Power up! Retro going strong

Even though the retro trend is not expected to fade anytime soon, companies which constantly try new things to catch the attention of consumers, will need to implement failsafe marketing strategies. One of the ways to reduce marketing risks is to use existing popular items. However, this strategy alone is not enough. Companies must also create a feeling of empathy. Their marketing contents must remind consumers of old warm memories or spark a spirit of fun. Additionally, rather than just recreate an old item, companies must include something new and different. Collaborations by Gompyo (flour) and Malpyo (shoe polish) with the food, snacks, and fashion sectors, where no obvious touchpoints seem to exist, are good examples of piquing consumer interest through unique products. The key to successful retro products and marketing is being able to remind consumers of the past while still appealing to their sophisticated, modern sensibilities.

The retro craze as a global phenomenon allows us to enjoy the magical harmony of the past and present in our daily lives. In today’s digital era, which seems to evolve by the day, being able to enjoy and be comforted by analog sensibilities can be viewed as gaining a double dose of happiness. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see what sorts of retro elements will capture the hearts and open the wallets of people around the world.

By the Editorial Department
Image sources Official Instagrams of Glasslock, Dunkin,’ Shinil Electronics, Smeg and Hyundai Motors