How Chubbies blends 80s nostalgia and modern meme culture to win over millennials

Fashion in the 1980s was notorious for being loud, garish, and bright, and those styles stayed popular even into the early 90s. But as we got deeper into the 90s, those elements lost their luster, giving way to the more muted colors and styles of everything from grunge to Abercrombie & Fitch. Then, in just the past half decade or so, those thirty-and-forty-year-old fashion trends have seen a renaissance. For a growing group of millennials who love both nostalgia and standing out from the crowd, those 80s fashion faux pas are back, and entire brands launching to serve them up. Ugly Christmas sweatersCrazy party suits

And loud, garish, bright short shorts for men.

Chubbies is a direct-to-consumer clothing brand that’s all-in on an 80s aesthetic—and its very real appeal to the millennials whose tastes have gravitated toward the decade when many of them were born. Chubbies’ signature first product is a line of vintage-inspired short shorts for men—short enough, with a five-and-a-half-inch inseam, to guarantee an ample amount of visible thigh. Many of the shorts double down on the 80s and early 90s nostalgia factor with straight-out-of-the-A.C.-Slater-at-Malibu-Sands designs sporting neon, palm trees, geometric patterns, and pastels.  

But Chubbies’ marketing isn’t exclusively reliant on cloying nostalgia. Sure, occasionally the founders will post a throwback photo of a dude from the 80s (sometimes even their dads) wearing the same type of shorts they sell now. But that’s just a sliver of the company’s approach. Chubbies primarily markets their throwback products using a thorough understanding and authentic commitment to modern meme culture.

That gives Chubbies a unique blend of nostalgic appeal and current relevance, and one it continues to ride to its position as a highly successful eCommerce company.

Here’s how Chubbies has used that dichotomy in the different facets of its marketing and branding to create a strong, authentic, lasting connection with its target millennial customers.

Past meets present to make a throwback feel modern

There’s a familiarity that comes with viewing the products on Chubbies’ website and social media profiles, especially for nostalgia-hungry millennials. Seeing the colors, patterns, and styles naturally resonates as many of them grew up during the 80s and early 90s.

This is how Chubbies connects with their customers on an emotional level, which they use to increase the value of their product and ease the buying decision.

The real closers, though, are the carefully-worded product descriptions Chubbies uses on their website. They seamlessly flow from 80s verbiage to modern internet slang which, when paired with the product images, show off a product with a unique “then-and-now” vibe.

  • “These bad boys have a 5.5″ Inseam, just like your dad wore.” (source)
  • “Made with 3% spandex for stretch a.k.a maximum moveability, lunge-ability, and high kick-ability. Seriously, they’re like, the friggin best.” (source)
  • “Chambray lined pockets because you’re worth it. Single back pocket big enough for the largest of iPhones (or Android, we hear you).” (source)

They name their products with puns to match the throwback-inspired design aesthetic:

Everything here is working together to achieve the same goal: Making it clear this is a product for guys today who love the retro vibe.

Marketing a retro product by embracing viral social media trends

Social media is a place for Chubbies to connect with customers, but they also use it as a way to highlight their personality and showcase products. They hop on current memes and trends and frequently re-tweet and re-gram their followers, all making one thing clear: We’re just like you, man.

Chubbies’ social media doesn’t feel like a huge corporate brand trying hard to connect with millennial though committee-created and boardroom-approved slang and emojis; it reflects what the company really is: a short shorts brand founded by four dudes who were college buddies.

For example, when the throwing cheese meme hit, they jumped on it:

Where does the nostalgia come in? A large part of having an authentic voice is not trying too hard and not doing too much pandering. If Chubbies filled its social media with too many posts regurgitating its mission statement of old school styles for millennials, it would turn off those millennials. Instead, they let the products do quite a bit of that heavy lifting for them.

They show their “models”—in quotes because, in a very on-brand way, they just use regular guys, replete with beer bellies and back hair—in bright, patterned, thigh-revealing shorts. They don’t have to say, “Look at how 80s we are! Don’t you want to be 80s too?” Instead, the pictures handle that pandering for them—in a much more palatable, subtle way.

Strategic use of on-brand language to liven up even the most basic marketing emails

Chubbies social media and website work in tandem, both presenting their unified voice and style. To continue driving home their mix of 80s nostalgia for modern guys, their emails keep the same vibe. Here they play with the sender and subject line to harken back to sending love notes in class:

And they don’t just use the mix of nostalgia and modern language in their broadcast emails (including sales announcements and a weekly newsletter called “The Weekender.”) Chubbies also adds personality to their lifecycle and transactional emails—emails which often tend to be more dry and strictly informational.

Check out that email entitled, “Enjoy your Exclusive Access, Sam.” In the preview text, you can see they casually refer to “legal mumbo jumbo.” Feels like a throwaway, but’s a smart word choice that speaks volumes about who the company is and whom they’re targeting.

With the amount of email that customers receive from brands every day, being able to surprise and delight them on a regular basis can lead to higher open rates and a better overall relationship. It’s the clever nuances in Chubbies’ strategy that give their emails a much-needed bump in personality. Showcasing this personality is a lot of what builds their relationship with the customer.

Key takeaways

Nostalgia is a powerful acquisition tool for Chubbies, but if that was their only focus, they would not have built the cult following that sustains their brand. By mixing nostalgia with modern marketing strategies, Chubbies is building long-lasting relationships with their customers. This translates to enthusiastic brand advocates who make up a significant percentage of their revenue.

Keep the brand’s voice consistent

Chubbies knows exactly who they are. That allows the brand to stay consistent across its different marketing channels: Website, social media, and email. The voice is also clear and strong—it’s easy to tell what Chubbies is about from their word choices, imagery, and style.

Know your target customer

Chubbies does a great job of tapping into the feelings of nostalgia that millennials have for the 80s—while simultaneously capitalizing on those same people’s connection and understanding of today’s internet culture. When you know how to connect with customers on such a thorough and specialized level, it helps establish a stronger and more engaged customer base.

Don’t be afraid to show personality

A strong personality is important for outspoken brands. By injecting their personality into every one of their marketing initiatives, Chubbies fosters strong emotional connections with its millennial customers.

You can live in the past—but avoid pandering by also living in the now

Nostalgia is powerful—extremely so. And the idea for Chubbies came out of the founders’ nostalgic love of their dads’ style. But focusing just on the 80s side of things could become tiresome over time; people, especially millennials, can tell when someone’s too lazily reliant on nostalgia to try to sell them something. Chubbies avoids that trap by mixing that nostalgia with the present, concocting a unique voice in the process that comes off as authentic and genuine.

(Sam Greenspan also contributed to this post.)