Come Fly with Me

By Stone, Michael | USA TODAY, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Come Fly with Me


Stone, Michael, USA TODAY


THEGREAT AMERICAN novelist William Faulkner, winner of Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote that "the past is never dead; it's not even past.' Judging by this fall's TV lineup, Hollywood certainly agrees. Television networks once again are banking on the power of nostalgia to draw in viewers, betting that the formula that catapulted earlier period shows, such as AMC's "Mad Men" (1960s), BBC's "The Hour" (1950s), and HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" (1920s), to success will prove just as magical this season. Moreover, the time machine trick is designed to go beyond merely reviving "Must See TV" for the major networks--it also is aimed at breathing new life into flagging brands.

The approach may not be traditional, but neither is it far-fetched. The airbrushed versions of the past served up by TV writers have struck a powerful chord with contemporary audiences and, as evidenced by the "Mad Men" inspired clothing line at Banana Republic, one that resonates beyond the living room couch and into the shopping mall. By romanticizing culturally significant decades on-screen, Hollywood is able to influence consumer behavior off-screen, proving that the time machine tactic does more than simply increase viewership and drive the network's advertising business.

So, the memory merchants are at it again lifts season, and hoping that the virtual whiff of Brylcreem and Camel cigarettes can do more than just lure people into stores, but also resurrect once-powerful brands. For instance, two shows that heavily were promoted in advance of this fall's television season--NBC's "The Playboy Club" (which already has been cancelled) and ABC's "Pan Am"--at-tempt to capitalize on the mystique of the 1960s. Airline stewardesses, for instance, (now tabbed flight attendants in these politically correct times) have been mythologized by a culture that tends to view the past through rose-colored glasses--which particularly is enticing during our troubled economic and political times. This helps manufacture consumer interest in brands that reigned during the era of skinny ties, four o'clock martinis, and pencil skirts.

Nearly 20 years since the grounding of Pan Am's planes, the almost comatose brand has maintained a pulse through licensing Pan Am-branded travel accessory products. If ABC's television version gets the traction that "Mad Men" did, it has the potential to take the brand off life support and transform Pan Am into a formidable player in the lifestyle and travel category. Should the show prove successful at glamorizing an industry that has fallen out of consumer favor since its heyday in the 1960s, Pan Am luggage may pop up in airports across the country while other sales and marketing opportunities are not out of the realm of possibility. Only time will tell if the show can maintain its buzz and strong ratings.

There may not be another brand that exists today that would have reaped more benefit from turning back the clock than Playboy, whose prime-time series was the first to be cut from the fall lineup three episodes after its premier. Hope that the series would pump up flagging readership for the magazine was made clear in the media company's accompanying marketing tactic: a 60-cent promotional price for its October issue.

Set in the early 1960s, the show was centered on the first Playboy Club in Chicago and followed the lives of the first Playboy Bunnies and the clientele they served. As Hugh Hefner's core business model has shifted in recent years from a publisher to a lifestyle brand, Playboy's licensing program, which also has gone in several different directions over the years, currently is a $900,000,000 bright spot in the company's earnings report. …

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