The year that was... 1997

The year that was... 1997

Almost two decades ago, some familiar brands faced challenges that would define their futures and question ideas about business' responsibility to corporate protection and consumer engagement. 

Caring for technology

For anyone under the age of 18, they might be a symbol of a past age of gaming. Tamagotchi's release in the UK, however, was a huge – and slightly futuristic – moment for many youngsters (and big kids) at the time. The original fascination with a technological pet turned into an obsession for many, with the little pixelated creatures begging us for our attention. Tamagotchi's popularity was a brilliant example of tech honing in on our feelings. Today, it can be looked on as playing its part in the birth of a new perspective – a move towards love and altruism in our products and marketing as a way to build long-lasting consumer engagement. The story we remember is one of emotional attachment, not of gadgetry. I still miss my Tamagotchi to this day. 

The birth of consumer-centric subscription services

It seems strange that Netflix was launched in the dial-up era, but in 1997 this internet-based DVD rental service changed the game. From rental then, to a streaming giant now, its growth has been sustained by a strategy to market building that has always put responsibility to consumers first. The brand's ethos of being 'straightforward' stand today as they did in the late-90s. Introducing 'no-hassle online cancellation' meant customers weren't tied in to lengthy or expensive subscriptions. Later, uninterrupted commercial-free viewing proved a winner, while global expansion in streaming brought foreign-language options, and sensitivity to different tastes and cultures. 

A new era in copyright protection?

In the 1990s, one of the big problems for the music and film industries was piracy. The challenge to marketers wasn't only to keep consumers entertained, it was to protect content and profits. Enter a format war. This was the year DVDs hit the shops and signalled the end for video cassettes. As in the earlier Betamax versus VHS battle for the consumer's heart, the humble DVD now took on the VideoCD. The nail in the coffin for VideoCD? CD burners, of course. DVDs featured a copyright-protection mechanism that meant they couldn't be burned – great news for the movie industry. Tech-savvy consumers, however, were soon to find new ways round illegal content-sharing – via the infant internet. 

Pokémon targets the school playground

A game that really needs no introduction, especially since its huge resurgence this year. In 1997, Pokémon captured the hearts of children across the globe. Launching as an anime TV series and Gameboy game, kids across the UK became obsessed with the fictional characters. The infatuation became so intense that, once the trading-card game reached us, many primary schools banned the games because of children fighting with one another. Whether or not the game irresponsibly targeted the children, the brand was soon facing its first public backlash. I can safely say I have never seen a child get quite as angry and upset as one that has lost its limited edition foil version of Charizard. And so, FFW to 2016...

Core campaign – before the big time

In 1997, Apple hardly semmed like a competitor to the might of Microsoft. It was also in huge trouble. With only roughly 90 days of money left to keep the company afloat, something had to be done. Enter Chiat\Day art director, Craig Tanimoto. The campaign that he produced with Steve Jobs became part of the brand resurrection. 'Think Different' played on IBM's 1997 slogan 'Think' and coupled black-and-white images of iconic figures such as Gandhi and Einstein with the multicoloured Apple logo. Today, it looks like a simpler and more playful time, and is a reminder that with a brand's success comes extra responsibility. Given current questions over Apple's corporate social responsibility, would the brand use an image of Gandhi today?

 Catalyst issue five: All good things? 

Laura Jones Strategy Director Exposure Digital
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