Is that steampunk in the air?

Everything old is new again, as recent campaigns from Cadbury and BMW pay subtle homage to the rise of machine manufacturing.

Occasionally, advertising captures a subculture in so subtle a way, it’s easy to not notice it even happened. Unlike a soft-drink company co-opting hip-hop culture – or that time swing dancing burbled up into the mainstream via the Gap – the reference is unintentional, or even reverential.
Lately, strategy has spotted several references to steampunk, a subculture that pays homage to the Industrial Revolution and the rise of machine manufacturing. It is everything digital is not – dirty, physically arduous, mechanical – but thanks to CGI, the contradiction can become quite elegant. 
Such is the case with Cadbury’s Caramilk Secrets promotion in December, a hit-and-run social media effort designed to build buzz for the launch of the new bite-sized candies this February. The Facebook-only campaign invited visitors to watch Caramilk bars be turned into tiny treats via an old fashioned-looking machine. Those who participated got a bag of the real thing mailed to them.
BMW brand Mini also made subtle reference to steampunk with its projection-based vending machine in downtown Toronto. The animated installation featured a traditional vending machine filled with different-coloured Minis. Passersby could activate the machine by texting a model-specific code (e.g. “B2” for a yellow Mini) to a shortcode, and then watch as the vending machine delivered the selected Mini. Sure, vending machines aren’t steam-powered, but the cogs behind the scenes were a nice reference to pre-computerized machination.