Back to the future – the best and the worst of what the big brands got up to

So, as you probably heard, the 21st of October 2015 marked ‘Back to the Future Day’ – the day that Marty and Doc travelled forwards to in the 1989 film Back to the Future II – and, as you might expect, many of the brands that were mentioned in the original movie have used this opportunity to promote themselves. But is this a good thing or a bad thing? A great PR idea or an annoying attempt at shoving irrelevant products down consumer’s throats? Here’s our list of the best and the worst ways that brands jumped onto the Back to the Future bandwagon.

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The worst!

Pepsi…

Pepsi had the potential to do really well out of the Back to the Future link, as they are featured prominently in the movie and could have replicated the futuristic Pepsi Perfect with current technology, but instead they damaged their reputation with over-hype and empty promises. In the movie itself, Pepsi Perfect is a futuristic version of the 1989 Pepsi drink, and the recipe comes with added vitamins. So what did Pepsi do to mark the occasion? They’re celebrating by releasing a limited edition run of a few thousand bottles of Pepsi Perfect in a collector’s case. The case looks cool (despite there only being a disappointingly small number available), but the main problem with this is that it’s not ‘Pepsi Perfect’ inside… it’s regular Pepsi. In an age where drinks companies daily manufacture vitamin-added and electrolyte boosting drink varieties, it seems like Pepsi could have committed more to the promotion, and at least modified the recipe a little bit. Further, Pepsi didn’t handle the people side of this promotion particularly well. Although most people reasonably expected the release date of the drink to be October 21st 2015, some of the bottles went on sale early, meaning that many got snapped up early before some fans could get access to them. This resulted in public outcry by Future fans that feel cheated, and of course an avalanche of angry tweets, all of which have served to diminish Pepsi’s reputation with the public.

Toyota…

Toyota ran an ad campaign for its newest car, the Mirai, with a Back to the Future theme. Three teaser ads, one featuring Fox and the other star of the series, Christopher Lloyd, who played Doc Emmett Brown, have been released to preview a five-minute video that will be published on October 21st. But, you might find yourself asking, where was the Toyota in the original movie? Anywhere? Well, the answer is that we barely saw anything of a Toyota at all, only catching a glimpse of a Toyota pick-up truck at the point where the first film ends and the second one begins. This film clearly belongs to DeLorean, not Toyota, and it’s a mistake to try and make the brand fit. What’s more, although it’s true that the Mirai will run on hydrogen fuel cells and that the cars in the movie ran on fuel cells powered by rubbish, it’s really not the same as these futuristic (flying) cars, as the technology doesn’t run on rubbish at all (the bit that the movie emphasised) and the Mirai isn’t the recycler’s dream car that this connection implies. Not enough of a link and more of a convenient tack-on to the previously-scheduled Mirai release date, if you ask us.

 The best:

 Nike… 

It wasn’t all bad PR on 21st October 2015, as Nike got it completely right with their self-lacing trainers. We all remember the gym shoes that automatically tighten their own laces in the movie, followed by a flash of the Nike logo on the side, but we never thought that we’d actually see them in 2015. But, Nike really has delivered for us – announcing the release of the Nike MAG self-lacing trainers coming in Spring 2016. It isn’t just the product that Nike got right here, it’s the way that they went about releasing it. First, Nike released a limited edition run of the same type of trainers back in 2012 (gauging people’s interests impressively early) – but these weren’t self-lacing, only replicas of the design of those in the film. So then we waited until 2015 and watched as Nike very subtly put out a handful of cryptic tweets to Michael J Fox’s twitter account, including ‘See you soon’, driving fans wild as speculation over the possibility of a release in time for October 21st flourished. Then, as the day itself approached, the build-up continued as Fox himself tweeted a letter that he had received from the designer of the shoes, Tinker Hatfield. It gave him the honour, ‘as the first, most celebrated wearer’ of the Nike Mag shoes, ‘we wanted you to be the first to receive a living pair.’ So, after making them wait on tenterhooks, fans finally got to see what must be every Generation X-child’s dream – as Nike posted a clip of Fox himself trying on the trainers, in which he can be heard saying, in the classic McFly way,‘Ah, that sound…that’s insane.’

So, can the Nike promotion get any better than that? Surprisingly, yes. Nike aren’t actually releasing the trainers until Spring 2016 (which means more interest-building waiting for their fans) and will only begin with a limited tradition release that will go on auction in aid of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research – so they’re not even keeping the proceeds of the campaign. And the best part? Records show that Nike applied for a patent to license “automatically lacing trainers” back in 2010 – so, despite their slow and steady release of information to the public consciousness, they’ve been planning this all along. Clever!

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