A longer version of this essay first appeared on the travel blog Where Is Your Toothbrush?
Slovakia (and the Czech Republic) was colored purple over the summer. Bruno, the protagonist of the online/direct Zuno Bank’s purple-hued marketing campaign Retro Is Super but Not in Banking, wore a purple track-suit and headband. And he was unmissable.
In the campaign, Bruno contrasted the old ways of banking, such as brick-and-mortar branches, long lines, and hidden fees, with the newfangled online ways of Zuno. Whereas traditional banks do things the old, retro way, with Zuno “you can manage everything online. Everything.”Website screen shot, Slovak version, 8/25/2013. The caption: “Going to the bank in person is retro.” Screen capture courtesy of Zuno.sk.
To emphasize the retro element, campaign visuals used objects from the communism-era 1980’s, including a tape deck, a record player, roller skates, a rotary phone, a fan, a typewriter, TV sets, computers, track suits, and toys (cue hundreds of Monchichis).
The campaign itself combined old and new: TV spots, YouTube videos, internet and outdoor ads, the website as well as Facebook and “other social networks.” Pre-1987 Škoda sedans carried the campaign’s messaging through streets.
Retro Marketing Is In
Marketing that plays off nostalgia for communism isn’t new in these countries. For example, the makers of Kofola, a soft drink introduced in 1962 as an alternative to American colas, built the product’s new messaging on throwback imagery.
In a fascinating spin on retro marketing, Zuno Bank plays off people’s nostalgia to promote the future.
Here’s one of the videos featuring Bruno and a ton of retro objects:
Video transcript: Do you have to go to your bank to apply for a loan in person? In this day and age? Going to the bank in person is retro. With Zuno you can manage everything online. The only retro things at Zuno are these gifts. Get them at zuno.cz. With Zuno even your loan can be arranged via the internet. You can get 10,000 koruna, 25,000 koruna, or even 500,000 koruna for monchi-anything. You’ve never applied for a loan this way? Online, it’s child’s play. Zuno: Less Bank, More Life.
Nostalgia in the Age of Post-Communism
Incidentally, about the same time I spotted the Retro Is Super posters I read Croatian philosopher Boris Buden’s book translated to the Czech as The End of Post-Communism: From Society Without Hope to Hope Without Society. Buden observes that the very people who proved their maturity as civic societies by overthrowing the Communist Party-led regimes in 1989-1990, quickly turned into children who needed to learn the first steps of democracy. Now, children do not reflect on their past because they have little to no memory of it. This way, the magic transformation of the post-communist nations, including the Czechs and Slovaks, into children has resulted in their inability to critically reflect on their joint communist past.
This inability, or even a subconscious refusal, to deal with the causes, consequences, and negative aspects of communism has outlet into fetishizing artefacts from the communist era. Glorified through Ostalgie (so beautifully promoted by the movie Goodbye Lenin), pre-1989 objects and their imitations serve as reminders of what was positive back then.
Retro Beyond Post-Communism…
Rotary phones, black-and-white TV sets, and other nostalgic paraphernalia evoke the good old days. Remembering that past makes us feel good today. Yes, we agree, retro is still super, and it feels good to know we’re not alone. If we’re warm and fuzzy inside about these sentimental objects, Zuno creates those feelings in hopes we’ll feel the same way about it.
But, Bruno says, times have changed. The merch is super but, starting with banking, nostalgia itself no longer has a place in today’s life. You used to play with Monchichis, it’s time to behave like an adult. You must now bank in a modern way.
According to Zuno’s marketing team, early results point to the campaign’s success, including a dramatic increase in new clients (figures aren’t available). What’s more, a month into the Retro Is Super campaign, mBank released ads featuring the Monchichi toy.
…And Into Post-Nostalgia
How does Zuno Bank’s promotion of internet banking usher the post-nostalgic era? The campaign nudges the familiar fuzzy nostalgia for the past out of the way to promote the Internet—the future. Where communism nostalgia buried reckoning with the past under a layer of fetish, Retro Is Super smothers that nostalgia with a layer of futuristic convenience.
Critical reflection of the communist past may, therefore, never come. The process of post-communist forgetting is over: there’s nothing to remember.
Post-communist societies, welcome to the world of post-nostalgia.