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Nostalgia

The golden age of American brand characters

A World of Characters: Advertising Icons from the Warren Dotz Collection from Jan Sturmann on Vimeo.

In this video, there is a rare chance to look into the past and see examples of characters that once populated ads in America. The collection was exhibited this year in San Francisco. And the collector is an important part of the research and data collection of brand characters.

Warren Dotz is a unique person in the strange realm of brand characters. He calls himself a pop culture archaeologist. He is specialized in American advertising; he is publishing books about classic American brand characters, and has a huge collection of brand figurines and other historic material.

Bonus info: Dotz is also a dermatologist with a clinic in Berkeley.

WarrenDotzbooks

Examples of Dotz’s books.

If you are looking for material on brand characters – as I have been – and only found Dotz’s books, you would think that the development of brand characters stopped in 1985. And peaked in the 1950’s and 60’s.

I don’t think that’s the case. The problem is that Dotz is almost the only one collecting and publishing books about brand characters – and since he is specialising in a certain time and country – there is obvious limits to his study.

What is also interesting in the video is the strong emotional reactions people have to seeing all the faces – some familiar and nostalgic others are just reacting to the universal appeal in happy faces.

I especially adore the japanese girl who loves the cuteness and has visited the exhibition three times.

More bonus info that made me wonder:

Aunt Jemima is famous and still popular representing pancake related breakfast products, she has been redesigned several times to look more modern.  Much has been said about this old brand character (dating back to the 1890’s) and the connotations in relation to slavery and afro-american rights,

auntjemima

but did you know that Jemima once had a male counterpart called Uncle Mose, and that he was invented just to create salt AND pepper shakers shaped as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose as an advertising premium (Dotz and Morton, What a character!, p.10)

But imagine a subordinate ‘career’ like that. Standing in the shadow of the salt shaking Aunt Jemina. Talk about 15 minutes of fame.

unclemose

 

Why do the Japanese love Irma?

DK-JP_linkedin

Japan is far away from  Denmark.You can’t – almost – get any further away. As a child I always wondered why the Japanese didn’t fall of the face of the earth; I imagined that they must be standing with their heads down on the other side of earth – because clearly my head was up.

In many ways Japan is far away from Denmark and Danish culture. Just think about language, food, behavior etc. So do we have anything in common at all?

Well yes, we do! A girl called Irma!

irma

For several years the Japanese has been in love with Irma. It has been reported how tourists ask for the local Irma-stores when visiting Copenhagen – and how they are buying stuff with her image on. Especially canvas totes.

Irma (called the Irma-girl or Irma-pigen in Danish) is an icon in Danish marketing and something that is regarded almost like national heritage i Denmark. She is the mascot of the supermarket chain Irma, that has anorganic focus and specializes in high quality products.

Irma is 108 years old and has been re-designed to her current look several times during her life.

irmapigen1907

irma-udvikling

And now here in November 2015 the Irma chain is making a promotion in Japan selling Irma and Irma-girl-accessories.

Why?

But if the Japanese are so different from us, why do they love our Irma?

mascots_jp

When you visit Japan you can’t help noticing that they are crazy about characters – especially brand characters. Much more than we are used to in Denmark. It seems like every region, bigger city, tourist attraction has a mascot (which is a concept called yuru-chara) but also food brands, restaurants and many many products in general has a brand character.

The concept of kawaii (= cute) is japanese. They are experts in cuteness and are celebrating the childish and youthful.

A common image in Japanese anime culture and cosplay is the schoolgirl look.

school-girl

And the Japanese love to wear these cute characters – so accessoires (teddy bears, prints, pins etc) are big business is Japan.

Japanese also celebrate classic minimalistic Scandinavian design – they for example adore Danish furniture design. Scandinavian design and classic Japanese design has very much in common in the formal style language.

Japanese love Irma because:

Irma is a young girl. She is innocent, a bit shy, and looking away from us.

Irma is stylish; she is simple, but elegant. She is classic in her colours and her clothes – without being old fashioned. Irma is Scandinavian in her style.

And you can buy totes, biscuit tins etc (japanese love sweet stuff) with her image on.

She is everything a Japanese girl could dream of.

tote

Good vibes from the past – notes on nostalgia

preimer-is_b

Nostalgia is a term that keeps popping up when reading about character design. It seems to be important on several levels.

Nostalgia is originally a greek word and equals the term homesick – but it is also broader defined as a sentimental yearning after earlier and simpler times – often (but not always) it is a longing for childhood.

We love to recognize and revive positive experiences from the past – because it makes us feel good. Human beings do have selective memories and thrives better when focusing on the happy and positive.

A study found that repressing embarassing memories for long enough can lead to us erasing them completely

The Daily Telegraph on Selective memories

So if a brand character succeeds in beeing able to give us that positive vibe from the past, we will love and trust them. And therefore characters that continuously are reinvented and re-introduced in successful ways can have a very long life.

Michelin_man

The Michelin man is for example 121 years old.

matilde_b

And this girl might at first sight seem young, but Matilde, who is the mascot of Arla’s drinking chocolate is 45 years old. And although she is middle aged, she has just been center of attention for young girls in a very popular social media campaign asking danish people to find girls looking like Matilde. For all of us who grew up with Matilde on the shelves in the supermarket and drikning the chocolate at birthday parties and for breakfast at weekends she is a nostalgic item.

And in the future Matilde will most likely also be present in the memories of all the girls participating in the competition:

matilde-piger

Matilde look-alikes summer 2015  from the competion Jagten på Matildepigen on Instagram  #matildepigen

Nostalgia will favorably affect spokes-character trust

Niedrich, R. W.,Spokes-Characters: Creating trust and positive Brand attitudes

But there are other aspects linking nostalgia to brand characters. Last week I was discussing how cute characters affects us in my blogpost The power of kawaii! – and I established that seeing cute stuff makes us happy.

Yesterday I read an article (Russell, L., T., M., A socio-marketing analysis of the concept of cute and its consumer culture implications – 2014 Journal of Consumer Culture) and the article suggests  that there is a kind of escapism from real life in the widespread and growing attraction to and celebration of cuteness. Scientists who have studied the land of the cute (yes I’m talking about Japan) and the spreading of cuteness to the rest of the world say that:

Cute products attests to a rapidly expanding desire for cute, cuddly, reassuring comsumption experinces.

We seek out cute things when we need reassurance during stress

So cuteness is comforting us when the world is demanding. And how is this related to nostalgia? well dealing with the cute and celebrating it in an efford to partake some of the childhood’s simplicity, happiness and emotional warmth.

And taking it futher: ‘rebelllion from society in Japanese youth culture has developed into a rebellion from adulthood’  p.79. Japanese stay young by being cute.

cute_japanese

Taking nostalgia to it’s logical conclusion: Adoring cuteness could very well be linked to this ‘moratorium mentality’ – a lack of desire to grow up!

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