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Dinosaur Jr. Still Believes in the Promotional Power of Cassette Tapes

Cassette tapes were pretty great, right? I think we can all agree on that.

Without cassettes, the sheer joy of winding cheap little spools of plastic tape back into their shoddy plastic cartridges would’ve been lost on an entire generation of music lovers. Without cassettes, few of us would’ve come to know the characteristically insufficient fidelity that muddied the sounds of our favorite artists.

Okay, in truth, cassettes weren’t all that great. In retrospect, they were actually pretty awful. Though they spent roughly three decades as a popular format for audio, their heyday is long behind them. The term “cassette tape” was even removed from the Oxford Dictionary earlier this year on the grounds that it was “outdated.”

dinosaur jr., stageOf course, try telling alternative rock group Dinosaur Jr. that cassettes are outdated.

On December 13th, 2011, the still-alive-and-kicking band – whose heyday ran parallel to that of cassettes – released a limited edition box set of their first three albums exclusively on the defunct format.

Why?

Well, as with most strategies that musicians employ these days, “Why not?” is most likely the reasoning. And hey, “Why not?” is arguably as good an excuse as any. That may be oversimplifying things a bit though.

From a financial standpoint, “making tapes is relatively cheap. Blank tapes cost as little as 20 cents each and tape duplicators are sometimes available at thrift stores.” And as we’ve discussed in the QLP Blog before, nostalgia can be a potent element in any marketing endeavor. When an individual feels emotionally connected to a brand or product, the financial investment is more justifiable. If nothing else, cassettes are rife with nostalgic value, and Dinosaur Jr. clearly knows it.

More importantly, this band knows its audience.

Then again, they’d have to. They’ve been professional musicians since the mid 80s and were highly influential throughout much of the 90s, with nine albums and numerous hit singles to boast. For example:

 

The group understands that their music belongs primarily to the same Gen-Xers that attended their shows and purchased their albums back in the day – in cassette form, mind you.  They realize that their fanbase is emotionally grounded in an era that they helped define musically.

While they’ve certainly gone on to enlist newer and younger fans in recent years, they know who’s supported them since the beginning: the same demographic that they’re targeting with their ultimate “thank you” gift – a cassette tape box set.

So really, why not?

Why not offer long-time followers a compelling throwback collection that calls to mind the glory days of both the band and the cassette format?

It’s a unique move, and one that fans will no doubt appreciate. And at the end of the day, one has to appreciate a band so in touch with its roots. Let’s just hope, for their sake, that the fans held on to their cassette decks.

cassette, deck, sony, walkman

What say you? Is Dinosaur Jr.’s box set a compelling example of retro marketing? Or is this just another way to move a few more albums?

Image Credit: FaceMePLS (cassette 1), richt/tlobf (dinosaur jr. 1).


Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.

Comments

  1. JPorretto

    I can respect the desire for Nostalgia, but this is pushing it a little too far IMO. The only positive memory I have from cassettes is recording my favorite songs off the radio (just praying that the DJ would shut the F* up and stop talking over the intro). I do not EVER remember listening to a cassette and thinking “this is awesome.” It was always more along the lines of “Where the hell is song #5?!?!?!”

    Side note…. I was watching Men in Black over the weekend and Tommy Lee Jones held up a tiny little disc and said “this will replace CDs one day.” I got a chuckle out of that. Wasn’t even close.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Oh man, I used to record from the radio all the time when I was younger. Those were the days.

      I hear what you’re saying. Dinosaur Jr. is great and all, but to be honest, I’m not so sure I’d opt to buy a cassette tape box set. As nostalgic as cassettes may be, I wouldn’t be able to deal with constantly having to rewind and fast-forward. That’s just not for me anymore.

      • Jill Tooley

        See, I don’t know that I would actually PLAY the tapes in the box set…I’d just take them out and look at them. It would kind of be like having collectible toys or “figures” (wink) — you may not always play with them, but they’re nice to have on shelves. :)

    • Joseph Giorgi

      …At the same time though, part of me really misses cassettes. It’s weird.

  2. Jill Tooley

    This is AWESOME! I have very fond memories of cassette tapes…listening to the radio with my finger poised over the “RECORD” button (waiting for that popular song to come on), making thoughtful mix tapes for my friends or crushes, and then decorating them with colored gel pens once they were completed. Ahhh, the memories! :D

    If my favorite artist released a collectors’ box set like this, you can bet I’d be first in line to buy it. Plus, cassettes just LOOK cool. CDs are great and everything, but cassettes scream: “Hey! I love music enough to tediously wind the tape back up inside of this cassette, just to give it a listen!” OR: “In MY day, we had to flip the tape over to hear the last half of the album.” I mean, I wouldn’t get rid of my CD collection to replace everything with cassettes or anything, but I’d definitely buy a set if I liked the artist enough.

    You go, Dinosaur Jr! Hopefully other artists will take this creative of an approach and bring nostalgia into their marketing. Vinyl has always been popular, but maybe someone will bring back 8-tracks…now THAT would be sweet. ;)

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “You go, Dinosaur Jr.!” indeed. The cassette tape box set is definitely a cool move on their part! Equal parts retro and innovative. Gotta love it.

      Haha — Is it even possible to record on 8-track format anymore? I doubt the technology still around. That would be pretty sweet though.

  3. Amanda

    Cool post Joe! I can appreciate the nostalgia here and think it’s a cool idea. Personally, I would never buy a cassette again. But for people who may still be into that–like older generations–I think they might love this!

    I too used to make mix tapes of my fave songs from recording off the radio–I still have them too. I just can’t bring myself to toss them. I used to love making mixed tapes! I would make country ones, rap ones, and ones I titled “great car tunes” and stuff like that. It was easy, and sooo cheap! =)

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I used to make mix tapes for my car all the time. I would actually record from my CDs onto cassettes because my car only had a cassette deck. Then I realized that I could just buy a cassette adapter for the car so I stopped making the tapes altogether. Haha. I still have fond memories of my old cassettes, though. I do miss those days.

  4. Rachel

    I didn’t make any mix “tapes” until you could burn songs to CDs, and my interest in music didn’t really develop until there were CDs either … so I can’t say that cassette tapes have much of a nostalgia factor for me. That being said, I know there are demographics out there that this marketing would appeal to–and judging by you’ve said here, Dinosaur Jr’s audience probably fits in that demographic! :)

    Also, I can see the comparisons between cassette tape nostalgia and that of vinyl, but I think the fact that cassettes have crap sound quality makes a big difference. I know that many people who never even grew up with vinyl collect it, but I wonder if that would still hold true for cassettes, because you’re not getting the good quality that vinyl also brings (or the large-format album artwork, for that matter). It’ll be interesting to see if this throwback to cassettes spreads much outside of Dinosaur Jr and finds a lasting audience. Great post, Joe! :)

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Very true. When it comes down to it, sound quality plays an important role for music aficionados, and cassettes (as quaint and memorable as they were) just can’t hold a candle to vinyl. Still, it seems like every touring band out there makes their albums available on vinyl. It’s kind of nice to see a band step outside of the box the way that Dinosaur Jr. has with their new cassette set. I’ve read about a few other bands who’ve tried the whole cassette tape strategy because it’s cheap and whatnot, but whether or not the trend will catch on is anyone’s guess.

  5. Jen

    My first tapes ever were New Kids on the Block (all of them), The Beach Boys and Elvis (I can’t remember which album).That is all I would listen to. I loved them so much and I really really really wish I still had all of them.

    I’m so thankful for my iPod now though. I hated having to rewind the tape when it was over and flipping it for the other half of the album. And it was such a huge pain to find a specific track. Tapes were so aggravating!

    Great post Joe! You brought back some fun memories for me. :)

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Thanks, Jen!

      A couple of my first tapes were Kriss Kross and the “Ghostbusters” soundtrack. Oh, the memories. :)

      I hear you, though. I’m all about digital media nowadays. Rewinding is so 1990! Then again, I do miss me some 90s.

  6. Mandy Kilinskis

    I’m with Jill on this one, I think it’s really cool that Dinosaur Jr. released the box set on cassette. I know that if any of my favorite bands released a limited edition set on cassette, I’d jump at the chance to get my hands on it. I still have a tape player on the stereo in my bedroom! I think that this is a tap into nostalgia that will pay off big for the band.

    Unrelated: How in the world does Oxford get off retiring “cassette tape” from the dictionary to make room for the word “MANKINI”?!

    • Jill Tooley

      I agree…WTF is that about, Oxford?!?! Let’s get our pitchforks and torches and head over to their headquarters in protest!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Don’t even get me started on Oxford’s decision to pretend that cassette tapes never existed. I couldn’t believe it either when I read that article.

      Oh well, there’s always Wikipedia — which is basically all future generations will be using anyway. (But that’s another blog for another day.)

      “The times, they are a-changin’”

      :(

  7. Cybernetic SAM

    I heart Dinosaur Jr. and always have. In fact, seeing them live, they also have the S.W.A.G. thing down! They hand out promotional items that are eventually going to be a rare find — you walk in and have a choice between an EP vinyl or a poster; needless to say, for a band that had kind of faded into the backdrop of the music industry, hopefully they’ll make an awesome comeback. I don’t think this is a cheap way to move a few albums because in actuality that is kind of a risky move spending that much money on a marketing strategy with a dead technology. Great post! And great song choice as well!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “Feel the Pain” is fantastic. End of story. I think Beavis and Butthead even riffed on that music video back in the day.

      God, I miss the 90s. :)

  8. Eric

    So torn on this one, being a hopeless nostalgic. As much as I love someone kickin’ it back old school, I don’t know…casettes? Like you mentioned above, Joe, there’s not much to be gained with that format. Sure, it’s a pain in the ass to rewind and fast-forward, but moreover, were casettes ever master track-quality recordings? It’d be like re-releasing the original Star Wars on Beta. Or, $%^&…laser disc. As a collector’s item, I guess it makes sense, but as something to actually listen to, it makes no damn sense at all.

    However…they removed “Casette Tape” from the Oxford Dictionary? Should I expect not to see “Floppy Disc,” either? It’s one thing for something to become archaic, though it’s another thing altogether to MAKE something archaic. According to Mandy, looks like “Mankini” made the cut…”Snooki” is probably not too far from it.

    Good post to generate some discussion, that’s for darn sure, Joe!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “As a collector’s item, I guess it makes sense, but as something to actually listen to, it makes no damn sense at all.”

      Yeah, that pretty much says it all when it comes to cassette tapes. I’d love to listen to one just for old time’s sake, but I wouldn’t want to listen to more than a couple tracks. From here on out, I’ll probably stick with the streaming audio format, as much as it kills me inside to abandon the physical media I grew up with. Still, there’s nothing wrong with cassettes as collectors’ items, which is why Dinosaur Jr. probably won’t have any trouble moving this limited edition set.

  9. Alex Brodsky

    I’m going to start collecting old tape decks NOW, so that when the hipsters in Wicker Park give in to the cassette nostalgia I can ca$h in!

  10. amy

    Along with Rachel, cassettes were never a huge part of my life. I remember them having my favorite nursery rhymes on them (a hint towards my age at the time), but that’s about it.

    On the other hand though, I love vinyl records!! We bought my dad one of those record player/CD player/radio things since he still has all his records from college. I think I’ve used it more than he has LOL. The sound from them is so much warmer and richer than from CDs. I haven’t searched for any record stores because I’m fairly certain I would go broke buying Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sintra records ;)

    A very interesting post, Joe!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Thanks, Amy!

      Yeah, it’s tough to top good ol’ vinyl. I can’t believe you never had cassettes growing up though. You totally missed out.

      (Then again, not really.)

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