Navigating Nostalgia: How Not To Resurrect Your Past.

I want to be honest with you, Blog Reader. I started this post several times, and each time, I just sat staring at it, somewhat demoralized. Somewhat irritated. Totally unsure where to even start.

So let me start by saying that, in the book and in a Food & Drink column I reprinted on this blog, you’ll see I am a huge advocate of making kids feel welcome. I believe engaging kids and making great memories for them is a tremendous way to hook families now and increase repeat visits, while growing lifelong fans.

I applaud efforts to honor and entertain kids, and families (without chasing off those without kids).

You’ve heard by now, probably, that McDonald’s is bringing back The Hamburglar.

The Pre-Ironic World’s Hamburglar

Except they’re not.

The Post-Ironic World’s Hamburglar

They’ve developed a backstory and a sort of coy rollout on social media, including some shareable video content, and stoked an argument somehow of whether or not this guy is hunky or something or nothing or (sigh) this is where I get all tired and grumpy and start looking around my desk or the internet for a distraction because it just makes me so worn out.

Why is that?

It’s because it’s such an obvious marketing ploy. It’s so “figured out” that it’s completely false. It’s enervating. It’s sort of why James Spader’s artificially intelligent Avengers villain wants to kill mankind, why the machines started using us a batteries in a matrix.

It makes me respect Taco Bell all the more for leaving the “kid market.”

It reminds me of why Burger King turned their cherished, nostalgic “King Mask” into a freak show.

It makes me aware, in these final days of the Letterman show, that we are living in a post-post-ironic world—largely a creation of Letterman and his disregard for the falsely earnest celebrity talk-shows that came before him—so you can’t pretend the old Hamburglar is acceptable. It’s amazing these old McDonald’s ads were offered somewhat straightforwardly.

I will assert, without research, that probably some focus groups revealed that nobody has any real nostalgia for him, either. People think “robble robble” is ironically funny, I expect, and the general pun of his name is sort of tight-lippedly tolerated, and that’s about it. I bet.

Therefore, the Hamburglar could only exist as an ironic throwback.

So I get what they’re doing.

But this new attempt is so clumsily post-post-post-post-ironic, so calculated, such an advertising-meets-social-media self-aware stunt. It doesn’t grow out of any interesting observations about culture, it isn’t genuinely funny, it doesn’t have the delightfully horrifying undercurrents of the Chic-fil-A cows, who are advertising out of self-preservation, amusing and engaging us to save their own lives—a complex, morbid, interesting idea.

It’s just goofy.

Also it’s a distraction and a watering-down of brand focus, as McDonald’s needs to figure out how to talk to us, quick.

Do they think this is what the Millennials want?