Every decade has its icons, from Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s to Michael Jackson in the ’80s, but there’s something about 1990s pop culture in particular that has stuck in the hearts and minds of today’s content producers. While the reasoning behind the rapid ascent of 90s nostalgia is an article for another time, there’s no denying that the era wasn’t just a launching pad for many celebrities that still reign over Hollywood today, but it was also chock-full of enduring marketing trends.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the cultural icons of the times, the lessons we can learn from their success, and their influence on modern-day branding.

TV

Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld

jerry-seinfeld-1998
Jerry Seinfeld, 1998 Fire and Ice Ball – Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock

It might have been a “show about nothing,” but Seinfeld generated countless catch phrases like “close talker,” “yada yada,” and “man hands.” Google features a “Festivus” pole alongside its December 23rd search results, and the “Soup Nazi” himself once made an appearance in a Super Bowl spot. It’s easy to make the connection between Jerry’s cynical sense of humor, the megalomania of the show’s core characters, and today’s selfie-focused social media obsession. If Seinfeld was still airing today, it would be all about the modern “nothings” that drive the consumer landscape, like Tinder faux-pas and selfie sticks.

Melissa Joan Hart

Melissa Joan Hart, 'Bright Lights of L.A.' Holiday Season Launch, November 30, 1998
Melissa Joan Hart, ‘Bright Lights of L.A.’ Holiday Season Launch, November 30, 1998 – Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock

As Clarissa Darling in Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All, Melissa Joan Hart did more than rock scrunchies and foil her brother’s mischievous plans. With a show format that had her speaking directly to viewers, she invited them into her world. The YouTube stars of today that brands rely on for influencer marketing can thank this straight-talking teen, who blazed a trail for vlogging in the age of VHS.

Jennifer Aniston, Friends Cast

Jennifer Aniston, GLAAD Media Awards, March 19, 1994 -
Cast of Friends, GLAAD Media Awards, March 12th, 1995 - Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock

Pictured: [1] Jennifer Aniston, GLAAD Media Awards, March 19, 1994 - [2] Cast of Friends, GLAAD Media Awards, March 12th, 1995 - Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock

When a group of actors is so popular that they spawn hair style trends (remember “The Rachel”?), brands are bound to get in on the action. Jennifer Aniston deftly parlayed her signature style into a profitable sideline as a product spokesperson, along with her own business venture. From a pop culture standpoint, the stars of Friends are arguably the forefathers of today’s urban millennials, while the series led to a sitcom sub-genre of “singles in the big city” with a nuclear friend unit at the center of the show (“How I Met Your Mother,” anyone?).

Will Smith, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

will-smith-fresh-prince-1990
Will Smith, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, 1990 – Photo Credit: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

If you lived through the ’90s, you’ll probably never be able to picture Will Smith without a neon baseball cap spun sideways, but the popular series gave rise to a blockbuster film career—and a lot of branding know-how. Drawing from his experience, Smith spoke about the state of marketing at the Cannes Lions advertising festival this year. “I consider myself a marketer,” he said.

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

sarah-michelle-gellar-90s
Sarah Michelle Gellar, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE 25TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW, October 16, 1999 – Photo Credit: Matt Baron/BEI/REX/Shutterstock

Capitalizing on the vampire obsession of the age (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview with the Vampire, From Dusk till Dawn, and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie were all released in the ’90s), this series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar resulted in countless product tie-ins like comic books and video games. Gellar’s portrayal of butt-kicking Buffy made way for female heroes like Jessica Alba on Dark Angel, Jennifer Garner on Alias, and Danai Gurira on The Walking Dead. And let’s not forget future vampire-themed success stories like True Blood and Twilight.

Mulder, Scully, and The X-Files

x-files-90s
David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, The X Files, 1998 – Photo Credit: Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock

TV has given us many great duos, from Lucy and Ricky Ricardo to Carrie and Mr. Big, but it’s Mulder and Scully’s legendary dynamic that has been cited by shows like The Simpsons and emulated by dramas like Bones. The X-Files is so engrained in our culture that it recently popped up in a Saturday Night Live parody ad for Totino’s Pizza Rolls. One of the most successful sci-fi series of all time, it gave rise to serialized storytelling the likes of which we’re still seeing on Game of Thrones, along with popular prestige dramas like The Sopranos  and Breaking Bad.

FILM

Leonardo DiCaprio

LEONARDO DICAPRIO, THE BASKETBALL DIARIES FILM PREMIERE IN NEW YORK, 1995 - Photo Credit: REX/Shutterstock
Leonardo DiCaprio, 'Searching For Bobby Fisher' Premiere, August 10th, 1993 - Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock
Leonardo DiCaprio, REALITY BITES Premiere, February 16th, 1994 - Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock

Pictured: [1] LEONARDO DICAPRIO, THE BASKETBALL DIARIES FILM PREMIERE IN NEW YORK, 1995 - Photo Credit: REX/Shutterstock [2] Leonardo DiCaprio, 'Searching For Bobby Fisher' Premiere, August 10th, 1993 - Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock [3] Leonardo DiCaprio, REALITY BITES Premiere, February 16th, 1994 - Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock

Leonardo DiCaprio’s career reached a high point in the ’90s with Titanic, but rather than rest on his laurels he continued to challenge himself, most recently with an Academy Award-winning role in The Revenant. Stars in the ’90s had their share of ego, but DiCaprio didn’t buy into his own hype—a good lesson for brands that rocket to mainstream popularity just as quickly as he did.

Julia Roberts

julia-roberts-90s
Julia Roberts, ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ film premiere, New York, 1997 – Photo Credit: Erik Pendzich/REX/Shutterstock

Julia Roberts’ career was full of memorable moments in the ’90s, when she took the entertainment industry by storm with roles in Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride. As the decade’s highest-paid actress and the winner of two 90s Oscars, she was ranked the third most powerful woman in show business alongside production company CEOs. This ’90s celebrity’s star hasn’t faded a bit. She’s still a top-earner, in part because of multiple celebrity endorsement deals, alongside career actresses like Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence for whom she paved the way.

MaCaulay Culkinin

macaulay-culkin
MACAULAY CULKIN, VIDEO AWARDS, LONDON, 1991 – Photo Credit: RICHARD YOUNG/REX/Shutterstock

Culkin was just a kid when he appeared in Home Alone, and the iconic image of him clutching his cheeks may never get old. The ’90s were the pinnacle of his career, when he was compared to renowned child actor Shirley Temple, but rather than rebranding himself like DiCaprio did, he largely stuck with comedic roles similar to the one that made him a star. Could this be why he’s still best known as 8 year-old Kevin Mcallister?

Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino Reservoir Dogs 90s
Quentin Tarantino, ‘Reservoir Dogs’ Premiere, October 9th, 1992 – Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock

Few directors are so eminent that they create their own genre, but with incomparable ’90s films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Natural Born Killers, Tarantino did just that. His unique style has inspired movies, fashion trends, and numerous TV and music-industry parodies, while teaching us the value of thinking outside the briefcase.

MUSIC

Kurt Cobain, Nirvana

Kurt Cobain, 1993 - Photo Credit: ROGER SARGENT/REX/Shutterstock
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, 1993 - Photo Credit: Stephen Sweet/REX/Shutterstock
Kurt Cobain with his daughter Frances Bean, 1993 - Photo Credit: Stephen Sweet/REX/Shutterstock

Pictured: [1] Kurt Cobain, 1993 - Photo Credit: ROGER SARGENT/REX/Shutterstock [2] Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, 1993 - Photo Credit: Stephen Sweet/REX/Shutterstock [3] Kurt Cobain with his daughter Frances Bean, 1993 - Photo Credit: Stephen Sweet/REX/Shutterstock

Four words: “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The songs from Nirvana’s 1991 album “Nevermind,” along with its iconic cover, are relevant to a whole new crowd of kids these days. Decades later, experts say the band is “still worth celebrating.” After all, Nirvana helped to usher in the dawn of grunge, an alternative rock movement built on authenticity, a concept that has driven social media for individuals and brands alike.

Liam Gallagher, Oasis

liam-gallagher-90s
LIAM GALLAGHER OF OASIS DURING THEIR FIRST LONDON GIG, THE SPLASH CLUB AT THE WATER RATS PUB, LONDON, 1994 – Photo Credit: Roger Sargent/REX/Shutterstock

With anthems like “Wonderwall,” Oasis was among the bands that brought the Britpop movement mainstream. The concept of “Cool Britannia” that emerged in the ’90s was intended to capture the essence of British music, art, culture, and fashion. Not only was it heavily referenced in the media for years to come, but the term even inspired a new flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Daft Punk

daft-punk
Daft Punk, Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo – Photo Credit: Piers Alladyce/REX/Shutterstock

Good marketing is as much about presentation as product, as proven by Daft Punk. Recognized for both their music and their distinctive robot helmets, the French duo and branding visionaries rose to fame in ’90s by crafting an image like no other. Words like “revolutionary” and “legendary” seem to follow these two wherever they go. Through epic live performances and a legendary Apple iPod commercial, they played a major role in bringing electronic music to the mainstream, a genre that is shaping contemporary youth culture.

The Notorious B.I.G. & Tupac Shakur

Marion 'Suge' Knight and Tupac Shakur, "Sunset Park" Premiere, April 23rd, 1996 - Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock
PUFF DADDY AND NOTORIOUS B.I.G., March 13th, 1997 - Photo Credit: ERIK PENDZICH/REX/Shutterstock

Pictured: [1] Marion 'Suge' Knight and Tupac Shakur, "Sunset Park" Premiere, April 23rd, 1996 - Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock [2] PUFF DADDY AND NOTORIOUS B.I.G., March 13th, 1997 - Photo Credit: ERIK PENDZICH/REX/Shutterstock

There’s no question that the hip hop world owes a debt of gratitude to these two artists. Biggie has topped many a best rapper list, while Tupac been called the most important rapper of a generation. They influenced everyone from Jay-Z to Eminem—and the fashion world, too. Biggie put the COOGI Sweater and the Kangol Wool 504 cap in the spotlight, while Tupac played a part in popularizing Timberland boots.

Spice Girls

spice-girls
The Spice Girls, Mel C, Victoria Adams, Mel B, Emma Bunton and Geri Halliwell, 1996 – Photo Credit: REX/Shutterstock

How many times have you heard the phrase “girl power?” Credit the Spice Girls with the catchy call to arms that still empowers girls and young women today. While the concept of girl power has been steadily morphing through the years, there’s no doubt that successful products like GoldieBlox toys, which encourage girls to embrace math and science, and viral ad campaign “Like a Girl” from Always have roots in this feminist notion.

TLC

tlc
1996 Grammy Awards Deadline Room – Photo Credit: BEI/REX/Shutterstock

TLC was one of the first female R&B groups, years before acts like Destiny’s Child, and they remain America’s best-selling girl group today. In fact, with four multi platinum albums, TLC is second only to The Supremes as the most successful girl group of all time according toBillboard magazine. Like Tupac and Biggie, the members of TLC had their favorite brands and didn’t shy away from putting them on display. Above all, though, they are remembered for being music industry pioneers.

SPORTS

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls pre season exhibition games vs Seattle Supersonics, Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, October 12, 1996
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls pre season exhibition games vs Seattle Supersonics, Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, October 12, 1996 – Photo Credit: REX/Shutterstock

Few celebrities are better equipped to educate us on branding than former NBA player Michael Jordan. He’s a “sports deity,” the best athlete of all time, and “one of the most marketed sports figures in history,” but he’s also a global cultural icon above and beyond his career in sports. The Nike Air Jordan brand and “Jumpman” logo are still going strong years after MJ retired from the NBA. Some marketing partnerships are a slam dunk.

MODELS

Kate Moss

KATE MOSS, Spring Summer Fashion Shows, New York, 1995 - Photo Credit: REX/Shutterstock
KATE MOSS, VOGUE PARTY, LONDON, BRITAIN, 1998 - Photo Credit: RICHARD YOUNG/REX/Shutterstock
Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, British Designer of the Year Awards,London, October, 1993 - Photo Credit: Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock

Pictured: [1] KATE MOSS, Spring Summer Fashion Shows, New York, 1995 - Photo Credit: REX/Shutterstock [2] KATE MOSS, VOGUE PARTY, LONDON, BRITAIN, 1998 - Photo Credit: RICHARD YOUNG/REX/Shutterstock [3] Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, British Designer of the Year Awards,London, October, 1993 - Photo Credit: Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock

Who could forget the controversial heroin chic look that permeated the ’90s? Supermodel Kate Moss, fashion label Calvin Klein, and a 1993 ad campaign helped set the trend into motion. While Moss was also part of the “Cool Brittania” movement, it was her waifish figure and influential role in fashion marketing that are best remembered today.

Top Image by