The Retro Style and The Contemporary Audience


posted on 31st of july, 2007

Okay, first of all - what led me to this article... Until two days I was using a mobile phone dating from the first trimester of 2001. Yes, it was a working one, and no - the screen wasn't color... Neither did it have Bluetooth, a camera, MMS capabilities... By some technological miracle it did provide an IR port and GPRS, which actually made it a really cool phone back when it came out. :) Anyways, that was the old phone.
What this little experience made me think of is the concept of retro style, it's purpose, and how it connects to today's audience. Don't ask me how the connection happened... I don't know.
Next - if you're waiting for a lecture you won't get it. ;) This will be more of a question and answer (the latter is where you come in) article, which I hope will be able to challenge your understanding of retro and how you can impact your image's audience with it.

Important distinction: vintage style does not equal retro. Why? Vintage styled images rely on the romance of something old and ancient; the initial model; sort of authentic. The retro style calls more for one's personal association with the time period which the image represents. Thus, anyone can be well impressed by a vintage looking image depicting the very first car, for instance. However, when we talk retro - if it's a retro image of the very first color TV, then whoever lived at that time and actually experienced the coming of the very first color TV will be touched much deeper than the rest of the audience (take a 14-years-old teenager, for example). I think it's important to always keep this distinction in mind, because it can also be used as a guide as to what message you want to communicate with your image.

The retro image is a symbol of an era - a period of time which is harder to grasp for "outsiders" (a.k.a. those who didn't live back then, or weren't old enough to remember/be influenced). Let's take the mighty VW Bug, for example. It successfully carries out the retro idea for me, but I'm sure that it's a whole other case for those who were in their most active age in the 60s and 70s when the Beetle has been really big. What makes me think this is the simple truth that people tend to associate life experiences and feelings with objects they have been surrounded with. Thus, if you had your first date and/or first kiss in a Beetle, it's understandable that a commercial with a Beetle on it will grab your attention and make you pause and remember.
© Mist (Help)
Nothing similar is likely to happen to a 16-year-old today, to whom the Bug is boring because it doesn't come with an air-conditioner, electric windows, and an MP3-compatible radio in it. ;) Yes, things are different with the new model from year 2000, but that's not what we're talking about. So, is the powerful retro image applicable to all audiences with the same impact?

With today's youth being a major part of the audience of pretty much anything, it's quite important that you know what's their "retro" style. As a matter of fact, you might even ask Do the young people today even have a retro style?! Having in mind my example with the Bug, try to answer this series of questions:
- What is your audience and what are you trying to say with your retro image?
- Does a simple sepia or b/w conversion make a good retro image?
- How important is it to try to touch the observers of your image by addressing them with something they can relate to?
- Are you trying to get through a retro concept with a vintage photo (considering that there probably aren't many eyewitnesses of the first 1938 Beetle that would be interested in your commercial)?
- Who will relate best to your retro photo, and how does that impact the usability of it?

- How would a retro photo look like in 20 years from now if Apple hadn't copyrighted the design of iPod? ;)

Happy retro-shooting!

Comments (1)

Posted by Petarneychev on August 03, 2007
That was about the time we got a color TV too! :) We still keep both - the old b&w and our first color one... Talking about nostalgia... :)



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Photo credits: Astroid, Ron Chapple, Michaela Stejskalova, Stephen Coburn, Sanches1980.

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