The KAWS Playbook: Using the Familiar to Accelerate the New

This post originally appeared in Fast Company.

Is new always better? When it comes to fine art and oat milk, not necessarily.  

Lean into Nostalgia

If there’s one thing we learned from Barbie’s latest release, it’s that nostalgia combined with a timely message is a powerful brand strategy.

Mattel successfully tapped into the collective memory and affection of their original audience by introducing their beloved toy to a new generation in theaters worldwide. The result? A mega-successful nostalgic comeback.

In a similar way, Atari mirrored this strategy when they introduced the Atari 2600 console earlier this year. Although a household name and pioneer in the video game industry, Atari understood it would take more than just nostalgia to stand out in the gaming systems industry. Their modern iteration was not just a reissue of the classic console but a reimagination that combined the retro aesthetic and beloved game library with updated technology to meet today’s expectations.

This balancing act of old and new set the foundation of its marketing campaigns, invoking the collective fondness of longtime fans while appealing to the modern sensibilities and gaming standards of new audiences.

When it comes to challenger brands that aim to disrupt markets, striking a balance between the new and familiar is a great way to encourage consumer acceptance, and even enthusiasm. This shows that while innovation is exciting, familiarity is enduring, and the most successful brands are those that can harness the power of both at the same time.


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