How Orange Gelée sunscreen made a comeback with retro-chic flair

It takes a lot of attention to detail and careful branding.

Orange Gelée sunscreen is making a comeback

Kennyatta Collins is a freelance brand strategist. Follow him on LinkedIn.

Award-winning sunscreen company Vacation Inc. reflects the leisure-filled beach days that defined the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Everything from the brand’s website and social media to campaign imagery and packaging encourages consumers to indulge in an unending world of vacation. For Vacation Inc., the two years invested in relaunching the iconic Orange Gelée sunscreen was an ode to the eras that inspired the brand and an invitation for audiences to recapture the fantasies of yesterday.

“If you’re familiar with the sunscreen industry, chances are you’ve heard of, or probably even used, Orange Gelée,” says Dakota Green, founding partner of Vacation Inc. “The cult following around this century-old product is unlike anything we’ve seen before. After it was abruptly discontinued in 2019, fans of the product begged for its reinstatement, and we received messages from our community asking us directly as well. So we thought – why not us?” 

 

 

While Vacation Inc. did not purchase the original recipe, they acquired the trademark for the name “Orange Gelée” and invested in maintaining the product’s integrity. 

The brand launched the “Orange Gelée Revival Project,” a dedicated landing page that provided visitors with product development and visual design updates. It showcased the people involved, all with a nostalgic twist. By the time the product launched in March, more than 15,000 people had joined the waitlist.

“Because there were so many components to this revival, from the storied history of the original product to the advisory board and the extensive formulation process, we documented the entire project…so fans of the original plus our existing community could follow along,” says Green.

Nostalgia works when elements of past eras or cultures resonate with the audience. The fantasy is broken, however, when the product falls short of memories. Every part of the original product was distinct, from the orange tint to its smell and consistency, so the difficulty setting for the project was extremely high.

“Because this product had such a uniquely devoted and passionate fan base, we knew we couldn’t just work on reviving the formula ourselves in a vacuum. We wanted to involve them at every step along the way,” says Green. A panel of experts included lifelong users of the original product, homemade dupe experts, modern beauty experts, and a fragrance buyer who worked in the industry in the ‘90s. “(They) helped us at every step of the process, weighing in on everything from the scent to the ingredients, the feel, the color, the SPF level, and even the design.”

On March 28, the brand officially launched the revived product in a company announcement on social media to an audience of over 130,000. For an immersive brand like Vacation Inc., it isn’t enough to just use visual design and products to convey their take on nostalgia — the language and references must always reflect the world they’ve created, including in social copy. The media chosen for the Instagram post announcement wasn’t content; it was a “ColorJet photocopy of the Orange Gelée Product Pamphlet.” T The attention to detail that went into ensuring the revived product lives up to expectations is the same attention to detail the brand invests into reintroducing the leisure-filled beach lifestyles of the past through vintage-themed products and advertising.

 

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“Our goal is to create fun, ‘leisure-enhancing’ sunscreens that make people look, feel, and smell like they’ve been to paradise and back,” Green said. “Anything that we can do to make the conversation around sunscreen a joyous one is a pretty clear green light for us.”

Effectively harnessing nostalgia’s power over consumer behavior takes an appreciation and understanding of the eras you reference in your brand position and messaging. The devotion to honoring the iconic Orange Gelée sunscreen and its fanbase came with a big reward as the revived Vacation Inc. edition sold out in a week, giving the brand its fastest product sell-out ever. 

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