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Memory Lane: The Rise of Retro Licensing in U.K. Ads

Learn why kids of the ’80s and ’90s are reliving some of their favorite pop culture moments courtesy of licensing deals and TV commercials.

Ben Roberts

October 25, 2019

4 Min Read

Some of the most successful TV ad campaigns in the last year have featured some of our favorite childhood characters; only now we’re older, and they’re selling us a different story.

A growing phenomenon in Britain, the latest nostalgia licensing trend is bringing us closer to brands than ever before as banks, insurance providers and financial advisors collaborate with the characters of our youth to help us feel a little less alone when it comes to making a grown-up decision.

So how­ and why–are brands taking us down Memory Lane to make an impact?

Born Licensing, the agency behind the Moneysupermarket.com, British Airways and Marks & Spencer campaigns, is a specialist in the TV licensing landscape. David Born, founder, Born Licensing, sees the value of the nostalgic brand licensing to be in its ability to grab consumer interest immediately.

“There have been some hugely successful high-profile campaigns,” says Born. “These have raised the awareness around licensing within the advertising industry and have sent a clear message that entertainment properties are available to license and can be hugely beneficial to their creative work.”

Moneysupermarket.com x Masters of the Universe, Action Man


The website’s commercial featuring a Dirty Dancing scene between “Masters of the Universe” characters He-Man and Skeletor made a huge impact on U.K. screens. The ad played so well with viewers that the campaign’s immediate social impact drove Moneysupermarket.com’s twitter engagement from 100 mentions a day to 35,000 in one hour.

With more ads, complementary digital campaigns and a growing signature for nostalgia licensing, the comparison service decided to continue the “tongue-in-cheek” trend of nostalgia mash-ups with new campaigns such as Action Man’s dance through the desert to Cece Peniston’s “Finally,” as well as a Thelma & Louise spoof with Sindy.

Halifax x Top Cat, Ghostbusters, Scooby Doo and The Wizard of Oz


In 2016, Halifax licensed retro animation “Top Cat” to market mortgage plans to first-time buyers. Regardless of acclaim or criticism-of which there was plenty of both-awareness with its target market of prospective mortgage applicants rose by 16 percent in just one week (Source: BrandIndex).

Due to the campaign’s success, and its subsequent growing signature of friendly, retro marketing, Halifax went on to place licensed characters from “Scooby-Doo” and “The Flintstones” in meetings with local banks, before using CGI to integrate mortgage assistants into scenes from Ghostbusters and The Wizard of Oz.

The AA x Red Dwarf


First airing in 1988, retro sci-fi sitcom “Red Dwarf” returned to screens into promoting breakdown service AA’s go-anywhere attitude. The ad saw a mechanic fly into deep space to assist the crew of Red Dwarf, and doing so, sparked rumors of a returning new season which set Twitter ablaze with interest.

Marks & Spencer x Bridget Jones Diary


Christmas, an important period for blockbuster TV ad campaigns in Britain, allowed M&S to present their unique 2018 seasonal promotion that showcased quirky traditions; including a group of friends singing “All by Myself” in unison with the memorable opening scenes of “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

British Airways x Winnie the Pooh, David Bowie


Another recent collaboration on screens this summer is the appearance of a whole crew of celebrities and iconic British names on board a British Airways flight, including a live-action Winnie the Pooh and archived footage of David Bowie; creating an emotional homage to British values and successfully marking 100 years for the airline.

Licensing, Nostalgia and Adulting

Nostalgia is helping us identify with brands of value, and the licensing world is giving these campaigns a powerful voice, but each ad is driving hugely effective social engagement and grabbing us ’80s and ’90s kids by the lapels as we try to navigate adulthood.

“With each person seeing up to 5,000 advertising messages a day, now more than ever creative agencies are looking at ways to cut through the clutter,” adds Born. “Tapping into nostalgia is a tried and tested method in connecting with key demographics. Kids of the ’80s and ’90s are now buying cars, procuring home loans, traveling the world and seeking insurance. Incorporating popular licensed property from their childhood years has proven to capture their attention.”

About the Author(s)

Ben Roberts

Content Director (EMEA), License Global

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