Creme, Chocolate, and Peace on Earth

The Power of Nostalgia in Advertising

Winston tastes good like a cigarette should!

Things go better with Coke.

Wherever there’s FUN, there’s Pepsi.

The Wizard of “Aahs”…new 1966 Fairlane convertible!

Campbell’s Soup. M’m! M’m! Good!

These are simple, straightforward slogans from a time when ads weren’t too complicated and pretty much promised to solve all your problems.

Somehow, it’s only fitting that Oreo launched its new “Wonderfilled” campaign during Mad Men; it was kicked off by a sweet, animated ninety-second spot that imagines a world in which everything would be better if only we handed Oreos out to bad guys. All three of the little pigs would have survived, a vampire would drink milk and dance with the person who once was his intended victim, and sharks would have fun little ice-patio parties with baby seals and giant squids. It’s all backed by an infectiously catchy track sung by Adam Young of Owl City. I say infectious because there’s a dormant period right after the first listen when you don’t realize that the song is gestating in your brain. A day or two later, it’s playing in a never-ending loop in your head. Forever. Kudos and damn you, Owl City!

The idea is that sharing something as small as an Oreo could bring about positive change. Weirdly, this is probably the only cookie that could actually pull this off. Years ago, when I first moved to San Francisco, I was riding a crowded BART train to Oakland. After struggling a bit, I found an empty seat and plunked down in it. The friendly (yet somehow not creepy) guy sitting next to me had a small package of Oreos and he offered me one. Had these been Fig Newtons or Nutter Butters, I most likely would have thought he was a lunatic. But, for whatever reason, Oreos, neatly lined up like poker chips and beloved since childhood, seemed like a friendly, innocent, and totally legitimate offering.

In the sixth season of Mad Men, the current one, it’s 1968, and by the close of the first episode, we’ve already been told (and we know the real-life history, of course) that it’s going to be a violent and difficult year. We’ve witnessed the impact of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and, at the very end of last Sunday’s episode, Bobby Kennedy was murdered. In addition to these historic tragedies, our characters are dealing with upheaval, conflict, divorce, senility, and general unpleasant change. Everyone is self-medicating — with alcohol, cigarettes, pot, speed, and adultery — to name a few of the vices.

The irony (or contrast, or whatever) is that although (or maybe because) the times were dark and troubled, the advertising of the Mad Men era was simple, hopeful, and reductive. These days, we have such a complicated approach to advertising and messaging: the obligatory laundry list of multiplatform digital, mobile, and second-screen experiences and gimmicks that are supposed to connect with our audience but rarely do. And even though Oreo is using Twitter and posting Vine videos and Twitpics, this campaign feels simple and sweet and naive and fun. A charming and whimsically animated film set to a catchy tune, it’s truly refreshing — like a Coke in the ’60s. Nostalgically, it presents a very simple premise — the same way advertising did “back then,” when a product fixed everything the way a cookie here can basically broker interspecies peace.

Oreo followed up this debut with something equally nostalgic. Instead of launching a digital or social campaign, the brand filled the streets of New York City with people singing. With their mouths! It was the Mad Men-era equivalent of “social” in that people were interacting with other human beings, in real life…on their way to work! Of course, the humans took pictures and videos and tweeted about it and posted it to their walls, but the initial impression was decidedly analog.

And with this encore, the audio gestation has been made manifest. You heard the catchy ditty on TV, it secretly implanted itself in your brain…and you found yourself humming it. Then, the next thing you know, you could swear it’s playing in the streets, because it is! A friend in New York tweeted that on her way to work, she saw groups of a cappella singers dressed in Oreo T-shirts serenading commuters with the Owl City song. On every block. It turns out they were pretty great singers, too, and musical styles of all stripes were represented. (And, as a bonus for me and the fourteen to twenty-two other a cappella nerds out there, Pentatonix, the adorable and supertalented Texas group who won the most recent season of The Sing-Off, was one of the participants.)

The Martin Agency, which created the campaign, plans to follow up with more films and simple, posterlike, iconic print ads. It will carry the message that, perhaps, by sharing a delicious creme-filled chocolate cookie, everyone could get along splendidly, and peace and harmony would reign in all the land. As for Mad Men, if only Don, Pete, Roger, Peggy, and the rest of the gang would share a package of Oreos — then maybe everything would be okay for them, too.

Roz Romney is a freelance creative director/art director based in San Francisco.