Brand Strategy

The 80s are back–at least in ad design

The editorial look is making a design comeback, driven by Gen Z and millennials.
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New Balance, Aimé Leon Dore, Vacation

4 min read

Design trends move pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it.

Over the last few years, brands like Vacation, New Balance, Aimé Leon Dore, Amélie Pichard, and Seth Rogen’s Houseplant have released ads that Ferris Bueller himself could have seen in a magazine. Marked by a simple background and a serif font (typically Garamond), the look is reminiscent of the ads Apple made popular in the 1980s.

So why the resurgence? Serif fonts and simple graphics could be a response to years of sans-serif “startup” fonts and millennial pink. It could also be part of the broader nostalgia marketing trend that’s happening as people cope with the issues of today.

We all need a vacation

Perhaps no brand has leaned into that mantra—or the look and feel of the 80s—more than Vacation, a sunscreen brand started a year ago by Lach Hall, Dakota Green, and Marty Bell. Bell is also the creator of online radio station Poolsuite, which could be the most old-school-looking site on the internet today.



His design and branding work has made him known as someone who knows “how to make shit go viral.” Since debuting last year, Vacation has experienced 500% YoY growth in monthly DTC revenues, according to the company.

“I think you have to package things up in a very specific way across copy, imagery, talking points, product—like, everything needs to be exceptional across the whole board for something to be an excellent brand,” Bell told Marketing Brew.

That means leaving no detail spared. According to Bell, the 80s aesthetic goes beyond Vacation’s ads. Invoices are sent on dot-matrix printer paper, pop-ups on the site look like old coupons, and the company follows only one account on Instagram: Jimmy Buffett.

Vacation ad


The goal is to capture the beach-party vibe made popular during the 80s, while also poking a bit of fun. Vacation has tiki-boat charters and a fondue set on its web store, but Bell confirmed those aren't actually for sale. “We really want to sell a really cool lifeguard seat…so we’re trying to see if we can get a deal with a supplier of those,” he said.

Merch is one aspect of building the brand, Bell said, but sunscreen is the focus. To market the product, he and his team ensured the ads were as authentic as possible by sourcing 80s pictures from sites like Flickr. One of its top-performing ads is a picture of a woman standing by a pool, overlaid with a serif font. “We love that because it looks so different in the feed and the style of the poster [is] really fun,” he said.

Vacation ad


Time after time

Bell said Vacation’s look is resonating among all age groups, but noted it’s “cool for Gen Z because it’s so far from how they grew up” given the lack of phones and technology at that time.

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Erifili Gounari, zoomer and founder of Gen Z social media agency The Z Link, loves the 80s editorial look so much she made a TikTok about it. “I got so many comments from people saying how the designs themselves make them want to buy the products and check them out.” She credits its popularity in part to the sense of nostalgia that’s popular among Gen Z and millennials, even if many weren’t alive in the 80s.


Ironically, Gounari said clients who lived through that era are the ones who are often most resistant to bringing it back. “We’re always trying to kind of gently push towards aesthetics that we know are resonating with our generation a lot right now. And some brands go for it, but some brands just don’t get it,” she said. “Especially if the team itself of the brand is, like, much older people and they’re still trying to get accustomed to what we like, and they don’t understand what place that has in modern design.”

Scott Walker, design director of brand at editing platform Picsart, grew up in the 80s. He said what’s struck him about Vacation is how the brand “feels authentic but luxury, which is actually quite hard to pull off.”

At the end of the day, Bell said that Vacation’s research and commitment to nostalgia is what sets it apart from competitors and draws brand loyalty. Even if the big-name sunscreen brands catch on and try to recapture the market, he said he’s not worried.

“They’re probably going to try and do a campaign and they’ll pay some agency an exorbitant amount of money to make it happen. And it will feel 10% as good as what we do because the people don’t care,” he said, adding, “They’re not obsessed with it the way that we are.”

Update 06/10/22: This story has been updated since its original publication. Bell "misspoke" in the initial interview; Vacation's images were not licensed from Club Med.

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