This past weekend, a modern remake of the classic film A Star is Born opened in theaters across the country, earning deserved critical acclaim, powerful box office numbers, and praise for its stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Some audiences may remember the Judy Garland (1954) or Barbara Streisand (1976) versions, or even the first A Star is Born featuring Janet Gaynor (1937). What many may not know is that Gaynor’s movie was an adaptation of the 1932 film What Price Hollywood?, making this the fifth time audiences have enjoyed this particular story.
In this era of reboots and remakes, what makes a storyline so compelling that a movie can be remade generation after generation? What in the American psyche keeps bringing us back to this theme?
The Power of the Familiar
On pop culture site The Verge, film critic Bryan Bishop writes that the film is “a reminder that some stories are truly timeless and allow us to examine aspects of the human condition no matter what decade they’re made in.” A Star is Born is a love story, sure, but also a compelling drama about the price of addiction and fame. It is an iteration of the American Dream through a Hollywood lens, a rags-to-riches story for the talented young woman at its center.
These stories have resonated with audiences of different eras, each with their own prevailing ethos and cultural mores. There is something elemental in the chemistry between the two leads, a young woman ascending to stardom while her older male mentor falls from grace, that can make or break the story. In today’s cultural moment, perhaps this is what appeals to the young audiences who are drawn to the film because of Lady Gaga’s star power and discovering this story for the first time.
Nonetheless, A Star is Born keeps drawing us back for another dose of heady romance and impending heartbreak. Looking back across the decades at previous iterations, it teaches us the power of a relatable, aspirational story told well for the present moment.
Moving Beyond Nostalgia
What’s the lesson for brand builders in all this? Perhaps that audiences respond to compelling stories, even when the narrative isn’t “new.” As Bishop notes, “even the most familiar stories can be used to examine the issues and concerns of a given moment.” The lense of nostalgia can encourage us to forget how a piece of art confronts the issues of its day, but that reductive approach doesn’t serve us as storytellers.
Instead, we can leverage the power of classic stories to reach today’s audiences. When we revive the successes of the past, we can honor what made them compelling in their time while still bringing them into the present. Those elemental stories that we find in A Star is Born – boy meets girl, hard work brings success, excess brings pain – connect with audiences across eras because they are given a fresh voice every time.
Perhaps it’s time to take a look at other past successes that might re-enchant modern consumers. Many long-lived brands, including Calvin Klein, Life Cereal, and M&Ms, have revived iconic ad campaigns to great effect by giving them an updated twist. Coke has returned to its 1971 “Hilltop” campaign (“I’d like to buy the world a Coke”) several times over the decades, incorporating new technology and reflecting shifting cultural trends each time.
Whether revisiting classic car commercials or successful slogans, if brand builders and storytellers can help those stories resonate for today’s consumers they will be rewarded with an audience that keeps coming back for more.