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Newsweek goes retro but a few slackers ruin the vibe

A retro advertisement for Domtar Paper.Props to Newsweek for its "Mad Men" issue, which took on the magazine's 1965 design as an homage to the hit show's setting in an advertising agency. 

The issue's March 26 & April 2 double issue contained news pages and retro-style ads in a design format straight from that era. The magazine even took steps to give its website a retro flavor for the issue, hosting a reader contest to vote for their favorite ads, a photo gallery of covers and ads from the era, and more specifically, a gallery of sexist ads from the magazine's archives that help illustrate a strong theme of the show. 

For a once-influential magazine struggling to remain relevant (more on that in a future post), I applaud Newsweek for taking a bold risk to win readers and advertisers. As Spam goes psychedelic. Groovy! Tina Brown writes in her editor's note, "The content of this issue is new, and about today, but there are echoes aplenty from the past, all uncannily like the present."

One of the best examples was a British Airways ad that used the airline's previous brand in encouraging readers to "Fly BOAC to Britain," with a small tagline explaining, "BOAC was a direct predecessor of British Airways." Kudos to British Airways for leading with its long-lost brand and subtly bridging the message for younger generations. (Check out the Electic Cool blog for more of these wonderful retro ads). 

Unfortunately, a few big advertisers didn't have the guts to step British Airways pulls out a long-lost brand in selling itself. Bravo!up and share in the fun.

Gucci, AT&T, and the U.S. Postal Service all stood out like sore thumbs with full-page ads pulled directly from current campaigns. My guess is many readers shared my reaction, which wasn't a good one. A company that can't let its guard down to fit a theme should just sit out the dance. 

OK, back to the things that were retro: Both the articles and ads were heavy on words, a sharp contrast to the large photos and snappy marketing slogans that dominate media today. Once one gets past the novelty, the presentation of pretty interesting content is tough sledding.

So, going retro obviously is not a long-term strategy for Newsweek, but in a sea of choices for news and advertising, the magazine's decision to piggyback on "Mad Men's" long-awaited return felt special. For a magazine that's caught in the shadows, a moment in the spotlight can be invigorating. Let's hope we see a return to greatness.

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