Enter the 1980s. A time for full-throttle, unassailable ambition, a decade where you can be anyone – so long as that’s not the anyone they want you to become. And the enigmatic ‘they’ in question? Any kind of archaic authority.
Challenging the status quo meant social mobility was well and truly on the move in the 1980s, and for young people – the power of potential was palpable. In Britain, the Thatcher years of the 80s brought austerity, the ambition of which was to stabilise spending and bolster the economy. In reality – cuts led to strikes, which led to job losses and hardship for those working in unionised industries. Younger generations on the cusp of adulthood saw the unfolding horrors and those who could, pivoted away from manual work, towards the prosperity of the city. And it was this migration, coupled with a boom in technology and innovation, that led to the emergence of the illustrious yuppie.
Today, the kind of person fitting the description of a yuppie is someone to be revered. Ambitious, hardworking, successful – making significant contributions to the economy and infrastructure of a city. But back in the 1980s, a yuppie was a strange creature. Successful before age permits success, wealthy without wrinkles, and powerful in industries often younger than they were. To the older onlookers, it was disconcerting. Suddenly their achievements paled in comparison to those ragging around in sportscars at the ripe young age of under 30.
For the branding and advertising of the decade, this societal change had a massive impact. Brands were able to reflect confidence and borderline cockiness back at the consumer. Marketing and advertising became emboldened with a distinct directness – from the language and Tone of Voice to the choice of colour and the typeface itself. Companies geared up to sell to those who could afford luxuries, a target audience with a newfound appreciation of the highbrow and the sophisticated.
The epitome of such an advertising strategy is a 1988 ad campaign by The Economist. Set against a striking shade of red, white lettering spells out a quote: ‘I have never read The Economist’. The campaign’s clever punchline comes in the author of the quote: ‘Management Trainee. Age 42’. The entire premise hinges on poking fun at a lack of ambition and a career without progress. That to be in one’s fourth decade and still carrying a trainee title is outright wrong, a fate haunted by social embarrassment. By suggesting that reading the Economist is a means to avoid such humiliation – the newspaper positions its brand identity as one completely aligned with the mood of the era. It speaks directly to the yuppie and those aspiring to be one. Creating a cult kind of readership – as people feel compelled to be a part of something for fear of being excluded and left behind.
Another industry quick to capitalise on the boost in disposable income was car manufacturers. Flashy sportscars were of course part of the uniform for young urban professionals, and brands like Porsche recognised that here was a whole new target market. To convince this younger demographic to part with their newly made cash though, Porsche understood they’d have to speak the same language.
Adopting the era’s quintessential copywriting style, Porsche launched a campaign featuring a series of taglines that spoke directly to their target market. Fuelled with competitiveness, the ads read with lines such as ‘You may get lost, but not in the crowd’. And ‘Appearing soon in a passing lane near you,’ and ‘It’s about as fast as you can go without having to eat aeroplane food’. Set against an image of this highly desirable car, each of these goading taglines was designed to make the reader compare themselves against their peers. It spoke to the competitive ambition, to be the strongest, richest, and most successful in the room, even if that desire was driven almost entirely out of social pressures – rather than any innate personal dream to be the best.
Today, there are still many brands echoing the confidence and character of 1980s advertising. Take the fast-food chicken chain KFC. Over the years, KFC marketing campaigns have seen several different iterations with clever copywriting at the centre. And whilst the wording changes, what doesn’t is the Tone of Voice. The positioning is always unapologetic, confident to the point of arrogant and – well, it works.
To give you an example, let’s look at the company’s 2019 ad campaign. The film sequence for the TV advert pays homage to The Godfather trilogy, borrowing some of the film’s most famous lines. It sees the Colonel – KFC’s iconic fictional frontman – being driven around what looks like an ordinary UK high street lined with takeaways. Shopfront after shopfront, the camera shows us chicken shops with several different versions of 3-letter names, all ending in FC. From GFC (‘Greatest Fried Chicken’) to WFC (‘Wisconsin Fried Chicken’), the list goes on, until the red sedan stops at the original mecca of fried poultry: KFC.
In addition to the TV advert, the campaign’s assets splayed across billboards all playing on the premise that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. A full A to Z catalogue of three-letter chicken shop brands is displayed underneath the campaign tagline “Guys, we’re flattered.” It’s funny and it’s clever, KFC has taken what could be competitors and made fun of their inability to compete. By positioning their chicken as the undisputed pinnacle of poultry – their directness makes the reader question their own behaviour. Why would they visit an imitator if they could have they the real thing? Typically 80s in its demand and demeanour, KFC creates a sense of hierarchy with this campaign –one in which they are firmly at the top.
You see, a lot of what 1980s-style advertising is centred on is creating a sense of difference. Us and them. The sheep and the shepherds, leaders and followers. In their brand campaign, Porsche actually spelt that out ‘You might get lost but not in the crowd,’ read that one ad. Consumers were made to feel like they were different, special and more advanced in some way than the masses – even if every single person reading the ad felt they were the different one.
More than forty years on and brands are still using that same technique to try and individualise their target market. The trainer brand New Balance is one of those – and in their 2020 ‘Runners aren’t Normal’ campaign they did exactly that. Hinged on promoting the resurgence of a particular trainer, the vintage-looking 827s, New Balance looked to the 80s decade for creative inspiration.
The tagline ‘Runners aren’t normal’ pitches the same sense of difference and competitive spirit that we’ve seen already. Consumers don’t want to be normal, standard, or samey – they want to be recognised as being better. Alongside its provoking campaign messaging, New Balance opted for photography and styling that made the link between them and the 80s era even more obvious. The models, both senior citizens are photographed donned in incredibly cool clothing and a pair of 827 trainers. Implying of course that these two, like the trainers, are a product of the 80s – staggeringly stylish, and very obviously shepherds not sheep.
At Glorious – a leading Manchester design and branding agency – we’ve helped several brands tease out their 80s in copywriting that’s cool and confident. Roomzzz is a rapidly expanding chain of apart-hotels, found in major city centres up and down the country, offering guests a very specific type of overnight accommodation. The existing brand identity had been allowed to evolve organically over several years of working with various agencies. And as a result, it had become disparate and disjointed and as such was no longer considered a good fit for the guest experience and their ambitious expansion plans.
The client brief to Glorious Creative was two-fold. The first challenge was to evaluate the existing branding and develop a more distinct and compelling visual identity that set Roomzzz apart from its many competitors, thus pitching them as a disruptive leader – just like the tone of 80s advertising. The second was to address the confusion and lack of clarity surrounding what an aparthotel consists of, to help leisure and business guests understand the benefits of combining the 5-star service of a hotel with the city centre convenience and space of a serviced apartment.
What became apparent from our research, was how invested the Roomzzz aparthotels were in the cities they occupied, differing significantly from most of the average, generic hotel accommodations on offer, which often feel a million miles from home. These points of difference formed an essential part of our creative response as we developed key messaging and a distinctive 80s-style Tone of Voice that showed why Roomzzz should be the consumer’s first choice.
We introduced large, deconstructable montages in collaboration with illustrator Katie Edwards too. These cityscapes proudly featured significant landmarks and buildings, cultural and sporting references, innovations and inventions, and prominent people and celebrities all unique to a particular city. These artworks add a very special and regionalised personality to the Roomzzz brand, the end result of which is incredibly versatile, appearing on interiors, social media, brochures and the Roomzzz website.
It’s the messaging taglines though that felt especially 80s in their playful tone. ‘Roomzzz to swing a cat,’ and ‘We’ve got all the bear necessities,’ made for tongue-in-cheek copywriting that could be paired with fun visual illustrations that helped set the brand apart from others on the market. And in turn, helped set apart the target audience too – who choose Roomzzz out because they themselves align with a smarter, and altogether better way of doing things.
So then, if our chatter of clever copywriting and commercial confidence has you wishing your brand was acceptable in the 80s… then walk this way. Here are our top five tips for aligning your brand with the collective cool of the 1980s:
Yes, you guessed it; copywriting is king when it comes to 1980s-style advertising campaigns. Taglines should be cool and clever, making people think. Be confident enough to create a tagline that not everyone will get at a glance, the point is you are smart and your audience like you for it.
Clearly taglines are short and snappy – that’s the point of them, but apply that rule to the rest of your campaign copywriting too. Don’t over explain things, that’s the very anthesis of a 1980s brand.
Your creative identity should ooze confidence, and that goes beyond just what you say and how you say it, but how you look too. Think back to the bold shade of red opted for by The Economist. It’s bright and it screams ‘Take Notice!’ Your colour pallet should do so too if you’re shooting for the 80s.
Consistency is always essential for creative branding, you know that – but when it comes to the 1980s it’s arguably even more crucial. That’s because across every touchpoint you should be trying to convey a message of superiority and to do that most effectively, you’ll need all your marketing channels to be pointing towards that kind of elevation.
Keep in mind throughout all your activity that you are trying to address your audience as an individual who is outside of the norm. The kind of consumers who respond to 1980s branding are those who are built up to be better, different and all-around more exceptional, so make sure your brand identity strokes that particular kind of ego!
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