Don’t be afraid to be an underdog.
I recently came across this instruction, written by me, on a notebook within a bin of my elementary school artifacts. There’s many things I don’t love about modern times. Those of us born between 1978-1981 are considered to be Generation Y. We may be a small group in terms of bracket but also the most creative. We tend toward nostalgia and and have a habit of remaining non-committal. The 80s infuse many of my creative decisions. I loved growing up within them. As a six-year-old I was acutely aware of the Soviet threat and because of the nightmare-inducing film Red Dawn, often stood on my porch anticipating Soviet soldiers parachuting from the sky. But Cold War aside, the 80s were a time of energy, fun, and wonder I find lacking now. As an individual or business owner, what from your past can enliven your present strategies and ideas? Utilize what once inspired you. What did you love or want to become? How can you bring more of that person or goal into your work and brand?
Sometimes the key to what makes us special/unique can be discovered within our pasts. With me, it always begins with films. The downbeat entries of the 60’s and 70’s, laden with Vietnam metaphors, came to a flourish with First Blood. The decade heralded underdogs, depicting class conflict between privileged WASPS and the working class (see Pretty in Pink or The Karate Kid). The 80’s made it feel entirely possible that E.T could end up in my garage as he did Elliott’s, himself also a child of divorced parents. If you weren’t traditionally cool like Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, you could own a unique appeal like Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science, learning the importance of individuality while saving the day. Individuality remains an important part of success and productivity within modern times. For clients or partners to discover your work, something about you must stand out. I relate to underdogs then and now. I’ve had a life laden with professional challenges and location changes. Underdogs are creative. They’ve developed the perspective, flexibility, authenticity, and reinvention to thrive regardless of circumstances. It’s vitally important to be able to adapt to changing economic, technological, and social terms. People respect underdogs—struggle is more relatable than you might assume.
I knew little of Reaganomics but Ronald himself brought me comfort and inspired confidence. (Even the Cold War seemed single-handedly put to rest by the events of 1985’s Rocky IV.) Whether he was discussing Libya, hostages, the Star Wars project, or his wife’s ‘Just Say No’ campaign, I breathed easily when Reagan was on television. This confidence imbued pop culture with a sense of wonder and romanticism (Back to the Future, Say Anything, Sixteen Candles) and popularized the much-beloved film montage wherein characters get to know each other/train for sport/hardships/fall in love, within clips accompanied by a great song. The montage model never fails to draw in an audience—consider producing one for your company website or a client. Its technique was popular for a reason—through expert editing, emotion, humor, and development were captured within only a few minutes.
Music was as integral to the 80’s as fashion, movies, and Baby on Board signs. I collected soundtrack cassettes to listen to on my Walkman. 80’s power anthems were imbued with energetic guitars, saxophone solos, killer hooks, and notes hit by superhuman vocal chords. Consider what music was popular during your specific coming of age. Music enlivens a brand. There’s a reason modern commercials often utilize music from past decades. Pop songs each carry a specific vibe. Which vibe do you want within your message or brand? How do you want people to feel when they watch your website video or commercial? I smile each time I hear The Fixx’s Less Than Zero or Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough as background music in financial commercials. Those songs are examples of atmospheric, synth-y 80s pop that imbues a message with a bit of mystery and energy. Branding or marketing strategies can be enlivened by incorporating a theme or object from years earlier, one possibly forgotten or not yet discovered by younger audiences. Create interest. Incorporating throwback elements may attract and endear new partners to your ideas. If you’re having fun, your partners and potential clients will also have fun engaging with your brand. Think back to what you miss from your past—you may find a potential goldmine of fresh strategies and ideas.
Creating your own adventure, whether in the books or your neighborhood, was a key 80s pastime, and a technique I use in business strategy. Listen. Observe. Make decisions based on instinct and what you specifically can provide to a concept. Think outside the box and choose a team that does so as well. Creativity was everything in the 80s. We made forts out of cardboard boxes. I remember our taking my friend’s mother’s silverware to use in the fort, an idea quickly repealed. I played outside, yelling ‘Wax On, Wax Off,” and skateboarding. I remember bringing my E.T doll (the very emblem of friendship, inclusivity, and acceptance) everywhere, along with Fred, his ‘cousin,’ a second E.T doll my mother bought and created a biography for. My Little Ponies were arranged on my 1st grade desk. Excitement bounced off the walls the year a teacher rolled a rotary dial television set into our classroom and we prepared to watch the Challenger launch. Excitement quickly turned to horror and that television was quickly rolled back into the adjoining room. It was a vital decade—groups experienced events in real time and together rather than through a screen.
“There’s nothing wrong with leaving your heart in the past if you apply that love to your new circumstances, imbuing a present and future with what you held dear, especially when it forwards personal or professional goals.”
These days, everyone is trying to find the next big thing. Life moves forward quickly. I feel lost when inundated by too much “new,” especially technology, and inevitably feel a pull to text an elementary school classmate—an action that grounds both my work and peace of mind. Part of this can be attributed to loss. My grandmother took me to see E.T four of the twelve times and allowed me to play Madonna, Public Enemy, and Huey Lewis at top volume in her car. She died when I was nineteen. My stepfather, whose first movie-watching experience with me was Big, died a few months past my thirty-sixth birthday. I can’t help but hold tight to the culture I loved in order to maintain a sense of peace and happiness. Role models, even cartoon characters like Optimus Prime, Jem, G.I Joe, and She-Ra, encouraged us to do right by others. Awkward moments of adolescence were celebrated rather than pushed away. The decade was innovative in its films, music, and toys, and we laughed with it, never at it.
There’s nothing wrong with leaving your heart in the past if you apply that love to your new circumstances, imbuing a present and future with what you held dear, especially when it forwards personal or professional goals. What if the very component to help your work is inspired by an item, trend, or attitude from way back when? I still see my mother as the young woman she was when buying me unicorns and books that cost half of their current price. To me, my friends will never age, but instead remain six, eight, or ten years old, rollerskating to a birthday party or watching Teen Wolf for the sixtieth time. Those kinds of memories help me grow rather than hold me back. I can’t let the 80’s underdog spirit fade when we need it so greatly these days. Many fellow pop culture junkies hold tightly to the past, understanding how it can inform and improve our present. Use your past to bring something unique and personal to your work and brand. The 80s were a time of creativity and happiness for me, an era I mine for ideas and more importantly, a “vibe,” especially when my budget may be small. The 80s were a time of invention, pioneering, and rule-breaking but every era has unique elements worth examining for ways in which they can enliven the brand of your business, event, or organization.