MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice Are Case Studies in Selling ’90s Nostalgia

The pair keep a job by making older people remember their youth.

When it comes to television indulgences, I quickly morph into a middle aged housewife. A day with nothing to do is best spent laid out on the couch, with my TV permanently on HGTV. I’m always amazed at how many places around the world are still cheaper to live than New York when I watch House Hunters International; I literally laugh out loud at the antics of Chip and Joanna Gaines on the Texas based Fixer Upper. My alter ego loves watching people renovate and fix their homes on shows that are edited to be as family friendly as possible. So imagine my surprise the first time I saw a commercial for Vanilla Ice’s home renovation show on HGTV’s sister network, DIY Network. Vanilla Ice in his fitted cap and dark shades, with his tattooed friends in tank tops behind him, undoubtedly looked exactly like the marketing team wanted him to: a rapper and his crew ready to flip a house. Now as I mentioned, I like my home shows of the cheesy, wholesome variety so the concept of the Vanilla Ice Project was a little to rogue for me. But every time I would see promo for upcoming episodes, I was reminded that nostalgia is an extremely useful marketing tactic and it keeps figures like Vanilla Ice with a job.

It is undoubtedly the juxtaposed components of his identity — part middle aged white guy, part popular rapper — that makes Vanilla Ice so bankable. He’s not a regular dad. He’s a cool dad. The show is wrapping up it’s 6th season this month. Since 2010, in addition to his show, Vanilla Ice has been a figure skating contestant on Dancing on Ice, the British, on ice version of Dancing with the Stars; he’s released a book on how to be successful in real estate; he’s played roles in at least three films; he made a stage debut as Captain Hook in the Chatham Central Theatre pantomime production of Peter Pan; he was called upon to do a concert in celebration of a new roller coaster called the Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast, how fitting; and in 2013 he did this weird experimental reality TV thing where he immersed himself in Amish culture. He also toured alongside New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, and another hustling-the-90’s tycoon, MC Hammer.

Responsible for timeless hits like “2 Legit 2 Quit” and “U Can’t Touch This,” super low crotch pants, and the infamous typewriter dance, MC Hammer is a gold mine of regurgitated pop culture. Hammer’s story is full of the stuff that could have buried his legacy not long after it was established: bankruptcy, lawsuits, declining album sales, and even a little run in with the law. But his early affinity for spandex, nor his unfortunate financial woes during the 90s, would stop him from becoming something of a mogul in business and tech. He was one of the first celebrities to seriously dive into online media as a means of expanding his personal brand, and has lectured at Stanford and Harvard on the various uses of social media. Hammer has invested in no less than a dozen tech startups and has been a staple in Silicon Valley for over a decade. But these moves have mostly flown under the radar, and it’s his face appearing in commercials for Nationwide, and most recently, he has signed on to a new campaign with 3M Command Strips where he draws on the pun of his stage name to convince buyers to use the company’s alternative to hammers and nails. And in a partnership with real estate website Trulia, MC Hammer appears in a custom music video about their prospective home. On the website for this feature, MC Hammer is in a full b-boy stance complete with his signature gold chain (with a house pendant no less), sunglasses, and a bedazzled bandana.

The flood of endorsement deals, partnerships, and television ventures thrown to Hammer and Vanilla Ice make sense, considering their markets. The group with the fondest memories of these artists are now in their mid late 30s. They are the ones buying and renovating homes, taking insurance seriously, and they’re mature enough to not want the walls in their homes ruined. There is a juxtaposition created when using the iconicity of these artists to sell such serious stuff. While there is an undeniable air of corny sentimentality about the whole idea, it works over and over again. While youngsters on the internet are reaching back to the 90’s to give themselves an air of maturity, the 90’s nostalgia advertising trend reminds the folks who are now being forced to dive headfirst into the rather dull monotony of life’s responsibilities of the things that make them feel young and cool again.