P068: The Limits of Nostalgia

My first job, I was in-house at a fur company with this old pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising was “new.” It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.

But it turns out even the power of nostalgia has its limits. Last week, McDonald’s teased an updated Hamburglar character and if that wasn’t weird enough, today he took over their Twitter and Snapchat accounts to, uh, well I’m not sure what. Something about a 1/3 pound burger and a nagging wife?

In advertising, effective nostalgia requires an emotional connection between a person and something lost. It seems like quite a leap to assume that those feelings exist for Mr. Hamilton B. Urglar – homey doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page. And the potential for backfire is huge: now that we have the Hamburglar back, it’s likely that we’ll realize we never really missed him at all.

That said, I can’t blame McDonald’s for swinging for the fences here. They had to do something. But when you have so many fresh wounds, why risk opening up an old one?

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron