Ford Bronco, Blockbuster & Nostalgia Porn For A Simpler World (Cafe Society Dinner Discussion #10)

Nostalgia marketing is tied to missing a deeper connection to one’s community that modern city life is lacking.

Cafe Society is Maxwell Social’s weekly magazine on the intersection of community and society — an anthropological look at the underpinnings of what makes the world tick, written by David Litwak (@dlitwak) and the Maxwell team.

A few weeks ago Airbnb turned the last Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon into a nightly rental. I thought it was a genius marketing gimmick— as big of an improvement that Netflix and having everything a click away is over Blockbuster, there was something nice about a trip to the video store, the sense of possibility of immersing myself in another world on a Friday night, and while no one would actively choose to go back to that world in function, in spirit it’s actually a quite attractive proposition.

Separately, a friend recently mentioned the word Cottagecore. No idea what that is? I didn’t either, but apparently it’s “an Internet aesthetic which celebrates a return to traditional skills and crafts such as foraging, baking and pottery, and is related to similar nostalgic aesthetic movements such as grandmacore, farmcore, goblincore and faeriecore.”

Nostalgia is in.

The TWA hotel that launched at JFK was recently built last year to evoke a nostalgia of the days when TWA, PanAm and more made flying glamorous and classy, with real service and comfort.

The popular Netflix show Stranger Things evokes a “simpler life where kids play in the woods and ride bikes, and where being disconnected from computers and smartphones allows everyone to be imaginative.”

Hotels are leaning into nostalgia for the family road trip in their COVID marketing, a time where you, well, spent time with your family. Autocamp is a new hospitality brand that is plopping luxury Airstream trailers (origin: 1920s) around a central lodge as a new type of hotel.

But the big one that happened recently that made me think this was really a trend worth paying attention to was the launch of the new and improved Ford Bronco.

For those of you not into cars, the Ford Bronco was a popular alternative to the Jeep in the 80’s and one of Ford’s more popular cars. Its reputation was sullied a bit when OJ Simpson led the police on a chase in his, but it was nonetheless a popular 80’s car.

Techcrunch writes: “The launch of the Bronco looks to be a masterclass in nostalgia. For the last few weeks, Ford has been feeding journalists with media assets — pictures, staged interviews and upcoming advertisements. I’ve yet to see the full vehicle because in the end, Ford is not relying on the Bronco itself to drive sales, but rather, is digging deep into the power of nostalgia to move the Bronco off lots.”

What is interesting is what they specifically marketed: “With the upcoming Bronco, Ford is tapping into consumers’ memories of a 4×4 Bronco bouncing over rocks and hauling coolers of beer to the beach.”

While there are nostalgia plays, like Nintendo rereleasing the Legend of Zelda, that don’t fall into this category, I think the reason nostalgia marketing seems to be skyrocketing is that most nostalgia marketing is tied to missing a deeper connecting to one’s community, the natural world, and the world that modern city life currently leaves lacking.

When you think about it that’s exactly what the Blockbuster experiment is about — a video store on a Friday night was a small part of the community fabric, the common watering holes that we gathered around before we could Instacart our groceries, Doordash our meals, Netflix our movies, the place you might serendipitously run into your crush in an era you didn’t just swipe right on them. A Ford Bronco represents a time where you might have taken beers to the beach with friends or went camping with family, and maybe dragged an Airstream behind you.

In short, so much of Nostalgia is being linked to a sense of community and belonging in our towns and in nature that we’ve increasingly been losing as many of the physical campus’s we interacted with people on move to online campus’s.

Facebook gets it too - last year they launched their NPE division, the “New Products and Experiences” division. One of their first products is called

From their about page:

We started working on after a few of us found ourselves missing a certain raw and exploratory spirit that was so emblematic of The Early Internet. Sure, it was clumsy to use — dangerous at times, even — but in that awkward mess was a weird and enlivening bazaar of manically-blinking GIFs, passionate guestbook entries, personal webpages made by people who cared deeply about a niche interest of theirs and wanted simply to carve out their own digital space.

So we wondered: Is this misplaced nostalgia? What if people could express themselves more freely today? Can we make more room for the weird and off-beat? Give creative control back to people? Create a low-pressure space for the really unpolished and mismatched things?

Even Facebook recognizes that appealing to nostalgia is growing.

At Maxwell, where we are basing our brand off of Elsa Maxwell, the famous socialite from the 30s and 40s, we’re no different. We’re evoking a time where “entertaining” was the priority not entertainment  — assembling your friends around a dinner table at home to enjoy each other’s company — not a show to watch or a performance. We’re reacting to a feeling that many nightlife spots almost assume you won’t be interested in the people around you, so blast the music so loud so you can’t talk to them. We’re evoking a time where Elsa gathered Einstein next to Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, and a time when if you were famous it was usually because you accomplished something or at least came from a family that did instead of the “famous for being famous” reality star celebrities we have these days. A time where maybe you could be a little bit scandalous and edgy, be your true self, because everyone knew everyone else in the room and they weren’t going to tweet about it if you made a mistake . . .

To clarify, how real this actually was I don’t know — I bet most of the Rockefellers or Carnegie kids were absolutely insufferable and there is a case to be made that wealthy heiress “Ladies Who Lunch” are worse than Instagram influencers, but the veracity of this image is almost besides the point — it’s an idea that we hold of that time period of class and sophistication, that rings true for enough of us emotionally because we feel like we’ve lost a lot of the positive things about a world that at least felt smaller and more intimate.

Maybe I’m just getting older so there are more things to remember, but I’m left wondering that perhaps the accelerating pace of nostalgia marketing is linked to an acceleration of the degradation of our communities.

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Have a great rest of the week!

David (@dlitwak), Kyle, Joelle