Childhood Nostalgia: A Digital Marketing Makeover

January 17, 2011, 12:25 pm by

I write a great deal about the intersection of things I love: Those that motivate my work and those in my personal life. Recently, my giddiness was invoked when I learned that Mattel has taken one of my favorite childhood pastimes, Barbie and Ken dolls, and turned it into an online video phenomenon. It’s called Genuine Ken: The Search for the Great American Boyfriend, in which eight “Ken-Testants” participate in filmed challenges to eventually be crowned, “the ultimate boyfriend for every occasion.” Hosted by reality TV star Whitney Port, the online-only series premieres tomorrow, January 18th on Hulu.

Personally, I found the idea brilliant: Taking a cultural icon from the childhood of today’s Millennials and turning it into an adult-friendly digital phenomenon. So I asked my peers: What was your favorite childhood toy or game? Below are the four most popular answers and (imaginary) digital promotion ideas for each one.

1. The Search for the Next Lego Landmark

Build a model of your favorite U.S. landmark using only Legos and submit a photo of the finished product for a chance to have your building displayed in its city of origin. Five winners will be selected by celebrity judge Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs.” Winners will also each get a customized, commemorative Foursquare “Build It And They Will Come” Badge named in their honor and unlocked by anyone who checks in to visit the display.

2. Name That Fifth Ninja Turtle

This spring, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are rumored to be making a comeback; in my digital dreamland, they would be joined by a fifth teammate whose name is determined by the public through a Twitter contest. For one hour, Turtle enthusiasts are asked to tweet, “The fifth ninja turtle should be named ______,” with the hashtag #5thTurtle. The winner is determined by celebrity judge Robert Matthew “Vanilla Ice” Van Winkle (or am I the only one who remembers this hit?) and receives a full-expense paid trip to New York City, with an optional tour of the city’s sewer system. Cowabunga, dude!

3. Connect Four Facebook Photo Contest

Go for it: Spot four of anything in a row, whether it’s birds on a branch or pebbles on the sidewalk. Anything goes, as long as it resembles a winning Connect 4 row. Photos can be uploaded to a special email address, from which ten semifinalists will be determined by celebrity judge Abdi Farah (winner of Bravo’s “Work of Art”). Those will be placed in a photo album on the contest’s Facebook page and voted on by the community. The photo that receives the most Likes will be displayed as the contest page’s profile photo and the person who submitted it will receive a gift card to

4. Top Chef: Easy Bake Edition

Please pack your knives… for 35 Years of Baking Fun. Film and submit your best Easy Bake recipe, along with a video of yourself preparing it. Ten semifinalist videos, selected by Bravo’s “Top Chef” personalities Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio, will then be displayed on Bravo’s Web site to be voted on by the network’s online community. The winner will have his or her video played during a commercial break of the “Top Chef” season finale.

As toy manufacturers should take note, the possibilities are clearly numerous. With the combination of treasured memories and careful consideration, our favorite vintage toys and games can maintain a classic, offline presence while also being adapted for an online generation. Take it from the peanut gallery: What childhood pastime would you like to see in a digital campaign?