I love the 90s – so what can brands learn from the decade of champions?


90s mega mix fashion TV music

From Hooch to Hanson, Pot noodles to Pogs, Britpop to Beanie Babies. The 90s was an incredible mash-up of questionable style, musical genius and some brave and bonkers brand activity. But as the dayglo lights fade and the tech boom reveals our state of hyper connectivity, what can brands learn from the old-world order? What were those highlights and lowlights that we can never forget?

I love the 90s. Wearing double denim whilst watching Nickelodeon and flicking through a copy of Smash Hits. Awesome.  My undying love of Britpop is particularly well documented too. The 90s clearly spawned some turkeys (hair mascara anyone?), but also some great brands and campaigns stepped into the limelight for all the right reasons, even if they did make the odd mistake. The world is changing exponentially, so before Google has us paying for our shopping with our eyeballs, let’s look back at my top 3 boom brands of the 90s, where they went wrong and what we can learn about them today.

Hooch: The category-defining boozy pop which heralded a new wave in the alcoholic beverage market in the UK.

What it did right - The boredom and fatigue within the wider category was rife. There was no news. Hooch was an entirely new beverage. Alcopops were born.

Where it all went wrong - When it started finding its way into kids lunchboxes (maybe this just happened in my North Eastern school, but it really did!), which tarnished the category with encouraging underage consumption as a super-sweet, but worrying strong mix. It’s name also alluding to home-made, prohibition-style grog – which also compounded the growing issue. The copycats also started to take hold of the category with cheaper variants, better flavours, humorous campaigns speaking to blokes and wider distribution on and off-trade.

What can we learn today? – When you’re (one of) the first brands to do something, it’s important to not just ride the crest of your wave, but understand when you’re starting to sink and what’s causing it. Hooch wasn’t responsive enough to the negative pressure and buzz around it, it should have marketed itself squarely at adults sooner, reduced its ABV quicker, giving permission to the lads mag generation before WKD took hold. Tackle negativity before it beats you.

It’s now back on our shelves and soon to be touted by Keith Lemon. It’s fun, adult, but all a bit late to the party. But remember that the great thing about it is the fondness and nostalgia-factor it has in spades. For the second-coming in a flavour filled booze market, I think it’s got real potential.

Loaded - The first lads mag

What it did right – It turned stereotypical masculine interest subjects of tits, cars, stupid jokes and gangster-esque male icons into a credible publication that appealed to the new lad generation of highly masculinised guys that perpetuated a new breed of beer-swigging middle classes

Where it all went wrong – The lads grew up. They probably did start to know better. A chasm erupted in mags – bottom shelf porn-ish titles like Nuts, Zoo, Maxim at one side and magazines for ‘proper’ men at the other from GQ et al. Loaded was losing its touch. Which direction did it take? The grubby porn one. And sales started to suffer.

What can we learn today? – To have real longevity, you have to evolve. This has to be credible to the brand, but also responsive to the times. Loaded needed a growth strategy that kept it singing for the long-term. When your target audience is going to want different things and you’re already starting to swim in ever more choppy waters, it’s time to think about how you can really appeal to them again and give them what they want, even if they don’t know it yet. Know your audience, take the right long-term path and do what’s right for the brand. Think about the future. Now.

Sony Discman –  The quintessential portable CD player that made great music on the go possible

What it did right – An 80s launch, but a 90s boom, once CDs began to take over cassettes. It had the sound credentials and real tech backing to lead the innovation curve.

Where it all went wrong – The digital age. The design boom. From its peak as Japan’s finest tech export with blockbuster formats, its popularity plummeted.

What can we learn today? – People make emotional decisions to buy stuff. They want things that look amazing and that work. We’re hearing today about innovative tech watches that are fugly for women, it’s exactly the principle. Innovating in the right places is really key. And it can be subtle. Think about Heinz ketchup, they just turned their bottles upside down. No fancy flavours, crazy ingredients, wacky sizes. Think about form and function in equal measure. It’s not just about function anymore. I’m not sure it ever really was either.