Navigating Nostalgia: How Not To Resurrect Your Past, Part 2

Hamburglar Tweet by Tasha

Okay, I’ve had time to think about it and I realize I did not provide much of a “How To” in the previous post. So here. This is what I mean.

How Not To Resurrect Your Past

1. Assume that just because something existed at sometime in the past, that people are nostalgic for it and it’s “beloved.”

Nobody really misses the Hamburglar. If they miss anyone, I bet it’s Grimace. Hamburglar was just a one-joke character who existed to create mini-plots for Ronald to resolve.

2. Interpret any reference to a past children’s character as a cherished memory on the part of the speaker.

Yes, “robble robble” is fun to say but if a person ever did reference “robble robble” any time in the recent past, it’s because it was an ironic reference to how innocently, clumsily, earnestly dumb stuff used to be—a tacit declaration that a company couldn’t get by with something like that today without an Adventure Time/Animaniacs-like dose of skeptical narrative distance.

3. Tease the campaign so much that it’s bound to be somewhat disappointing when it plays out.

Arguments over whether the new Hamburglar is handsome or a cynical attempt to engage Millennials were at least publicity. But after awhile, the actual rollout is something of a let down and the whole thing blows over.

4. Base the humor on old ideas and self-referential self-reverence.

And by self-referential self-reverence I mean, pretending that we-the-audience finds all this Hamburglar backstory amusing, as if we’re getting dirt on somebody we’ve been curious about. If you accept (as in #1) that nobody is as interested in this as the company itself, then maybe the humor can find some kind of goofy traction—like the Jack in the Box campaign generally manages to do. And notice that the humor in the Jack-in-the-Box doesn’t rely on a big wink. I feel this Hamburglar campaign winking and winking at me.

Also, yes, that’s A TOTAL UNACKNOWLEDGED RIP-OFF of a certain brilliant Brad Bird Pixar movie.

5. Assume that because social media has been talking about it, that any publicity is good publicity.

While all this miniature fuss is happening, McDonald’s continues to struggle to figure out how to attract a new generation of kids who see the restaurant as unhealthy and uncool. This seems like sinking-ship-deckchair-arranging.

I don’t have the answers. It’s possible this Hamburglar promo will get so much attention people go buy burgers, which has to be good when the company is struggling. But I do know that this campaign feels desperate to be loved. Not sure that’s the brand essence McDonald’s really needs right now.