Ad Report Card: Instant Nostalgia From Sprite

Remember when I wrote about Sprite’s authenticity-conscious ad campaign about a year ago? I didn’t think so, but I’m tempted to just stop right there in assessing Sprite’s more recent “Back to the Roots” campaign, which is built on a peculiar mix of authenticity and nostalgia. The soft drink maker has lately been rerunning old ads to underscore just how long the Sprite team has been keeping it real. One spot, for instance, reaches all the way back to 1995—you can see it here through Sprite’s Web site; click “Freestylin.”

The ad: The new ad consists of an old ad. The old ad is shown in a letterbox format, with “Sprite, 1995” written underneath. In it, there’s a short hip-hop jam session, in which rappers trade lyrics on the subject of Sprite. “First things first, obey your thirst,” is the closing line. I don’t really remember this ad, but the Web site says it’s “a Sprite ‘commercial classic’ featuring the gifted Grand Puba and the legendary Large Professor.” I’m not sure why Sprite’s Web team felt it was necessary to put “commercial classic” in quotes, unless even they are a little skeptical at the claim.

History lessens: The site also explains that the point of this “Back to the Roots” campaign is to mark the 15 years that Sprite has been “embracing the power of hip-hop music and culture,” making it “the brand known for keeping it real in cool, cutting-edge commercials.” Yeah? Well, OK, if you say so.

What’s weird is that—assuming it’s true that Sprite and hip-hop have been intertwined for so long—the campaign is relying on such a distinctly un-historic document as a 1995 commercial. As if it weren’t silly enough to pretend that the mid-1990s is some bygone era, there’s very little about either the music or imagery in this spot that makes it seem particularly old or even particularly different from any number of commercials running right now. It’s true that in a world in which old sporting events can be repackaged as “classic,” old clothes as “vintage,” and old anything as “collectible,” there’s great value be derived from the simple fact of a product’s history. (Thus my thought of directing readers back to an earlier Sprite column and labeling it an “Ad Report Card Classic.”) But there’s something unconvincing about the notion of Sprite having been present at the creation of rap, and the submission of a 1995 ad as Exhibit A only makes this case even more suspect.

But at least there’s something entertaining about the idea of ‘95 as the foggily remembered past when everything was different somehow. Years ago, in an edition of its annual “Hot” issue, Rolling Stone noted a trend—the astonishing reduction in the amount of time that needed to go by between a particular event and feelings of nostalgia about that event. As an illustration for its item on this “hot” trend, the magazine reprinted the issue’s cover (featuring Lisa Bonet, if memory serves) and the headline “Instant Nostalgia.” Way back then, this still seemed like a fresh idea, or at least a new phenomenon.

Those were the days, eh?