Consumers of a certain age had quite a few especially iconic cartoons grace their television sets on Saturday mornings — and many of them are remarkable for still being around, or being revived in forms like movies, bringing in those same fans for a dose of nostalgia in their adulthood.
We generally refer to this group as Millennials, and like every generation, they look back fondly on a lot of the pop culture elements they grew up with. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Sailor Moon, Captain Planet — these are characters that all Millennials are familiar with and have a range of feelings about. Some are even critical about Millennials’ desire to tap back into their childhood by buying into film franchises like “Transformers” or Marvel’s “Avengers.” They might be forgetting that Millennials aren’t the first to do that; George Lucas managed to create the world’s biggest, most beloved media franchise in “Star Wars” by tapping into his nostalgia for the sci-fi adventures of his youth, for instance.
Still, it’s hard to argue that adults who grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s are still pretty excited about stuff from their childhoods, and smart marketers know how to take advantage of that fact. What makes car manufacturer Ford’s nostalgia-tapping campaign so great is that it’s a knowing, often-hilarious wink to Millennials.
Ford’s “Overdubs” campaign uses voice actors — notably David Hayter, probably most famous for his portrayal of the video game character Solid Snake in the “Metal Gear Solid” series of games — add new dubbed dialogue to clips of television shows, cartoons, video games and commercials. Some are jokes in and of themselves, like the “Captain Planet” video above that riffs on the summoning of the titular superhero in each episode. Others make their jokes by reimagining the scenarios of the scene, adding out-of-context jokes.
And a few are especially funny for making pop culture in-jokes that are geared at Millennials.
In this clip from “Metal Gear Solid,” Ford makes a joke about a famous (in game circles) trick the game played on Playstation owners way back in 1998. During the fight with a mind-controlling boss called Psycho Mantis, seen in the video, players were freaked out to hear Mantis bring up other games they liked. Really, it was just the game reading data from players’ memory cards and mentioning other games put out by the publisher of “Metal Gear Solid,” Konami.
The trick is still remembered as a standout moment for many video game fans, and Ford perfectly riffs on it to make a joke that only fans — mostly kids from 1998 — will remember.
Other “Overdubs” videos, like the one above featuring footage from the Japanese cartoon “Sailor Moon,” are a little less subtle or about their jokes. But what makes Ford’s campaign so fun is that it’s so perfectly angled. And even though it’s clearly meant for Millennials, the funny, easy production of its short videos — they only required dubbed-over dialogue, after all — means that Ford can create lots of them, appealing to different subsets of its audience, or making ads with wider appeal as needed.
That makes the “Overdubs” campaign pretty fun, pretty funny, and pretty special. It’s targeted but flexible, and more than anything, it really understands its audience. That makes it something to learn from the next time you’re thinking about how to hit a specific audience — and especially how to go after Millennials. One quick tip: Know what they like, try to like it too, and be willing to get in on the joke with them.