A long retired successful photographer called Ed the other day for some advice. He/she has been out of touch with the business (by choice) and enjoys life pretty much doing nothing.

Out of the blue photographer gets a phone call from Giant Ad Age Agency, “Hey remember that super ad campaign you did for (Major Consumer Company) in the ’80s?  Well our client just bought the IP of that company especially the product names. They want to do a big retro campaign to sort of re-launch the products. We want to license some of your “old” images and if you are so inclined, we will also pay even more if you will shoot some new ones”.

Photographer inquires of us about the term “retro ads” saying he/she did not really know what that means in current lingo.  We explained that retro campaigns are especially big now in large measure because baby boomers were more likely to have some brand allegiances, subsequent generations much less so.

Revived retro campaigns/characters/logos etc. are typically aimed at a demographic, which used or bought the product during pre-teen to young adult years. Some of Ed’s cases involved:

– an internationally distributed beer sold in N. America, S. America and Europe used photos all shot in the ’60s on its packaging;

– Actor Jack Scalia’s Jordache ads being re-run decades later.  See our Copyright Zone article here.

– 30 year old photos of famed athlete Bo Jackson being used in 2014 in ads, posters and on clothing.

“New” or revived uses/names include: Mr. Clean, French Toast Cereal, Pepsi and Mountain Dew Throwbacks, Mentos, Citroen, MAC cosmetics and even Polaroid (yes Polaroid).

Put the phrase “retro advertising” into your favorite search engine and an endless of buffet of articles will appear addressed to every aspect of such advertising.  Retro campaigns are often effective and offering up some nostalgia is as often just what the client wants.  .

Retro campaigns can also generate legal fees because the “original” photographer/model/ad agency/client is often dead, out of business or has been sold to another company. Whatever paperwork, computers  and discs with relevant information got lost or tossed over the decades. The upside to running a campaign without the required licenses is sometimes viewed as worth taking the risk of getting caught.

Another lawyer consulted Ed on a case where the image was originally shot in 1970’s. The model knows for sure that he/she signed a release BUT nobody can find it so as far as a judge or jury is concerned one did not and does not exist.  If the other side can’t find “it” the case will be over before it starts.  This is a very, very common scenario.  Photographers with images but without model releases may be not be able to commercially exploit otherwise valuable images.

Which brings us back to our retired photographer friend.  Due to his/her superior business acumen, all invoices, copyright registrations and model releases are in perfect order and are conveniently located about 20 feet from his/her computer.  The photographer is able to once again license photos created while Ronald Reagan was President and iPhones did not exist.  The photographer could (and did) receive checks in very substantial amounts from a client which he/she had never dealt with before. If so inclined the photographer can even dust off some of the studio strobes in their garage and shoot some new stuff earning a substantial amount in the process. Photographer’s skills as a shooter supported an excellent lifestyle but his business skills not Lotto, permitted him to retire and live comfortably.

When the art buyer was informed that photographer could get invoices, releases and registrations to the agency within 24 hours if they could agree on price and use, the “suit” almost fainted, stammering, “We assumed that you would have nothing. I am floored that we are able to do this.  We thought we had a great idea but that we wouldn’t be able to run it because you wouldn’t have any model releases some 30+ years old.”

Such revelations made to a seasoned negotiator exposed how much money the client would save by using “old” photos, how much time was already put in and the job was well priced by photographer accordingly.  A very happy ending was had by all. The photographer got lots of money out of nowhere, the campaign was a success and the client could not have been more thrilled with the results obtained by the new agency.
You know how much we hate to be cynical, but we can’t help but wonder if Giant Ad Agency had a Plan B.

Anyhow the whole thing reminds us of the song “Everything Old is New Again” written by the greats Peter Allen and Carol Bayer Sager.

Don’t throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again