An Alaskan Way Viaduct elegy

November 14, 2018 by

Before we settled in for a half hour of Home Improvement or ER, my family watched KING 5 or KOMO 4 local news most evenings of my childhood. This is where I learned of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. There were occasional reports on its questionable safety even before the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, which caused further damage and necessitated emergency repairs. But it wasn’t just deemed unsafe. It’s also a noisy eyesore that split downtown Seattle from its vibrant waterfront. Like the Kingdome, the Viaduct became a local beacon of bad architecture. And like the Kingdome, it clearly needed to be torn down. So now that the end is near, why am I sad to see it go?

The answer has a lot to do with the power of nostalgia. I witness this power not just in my own personal life, but in my life as a marketer at 2A. When companies share ideas or stories from the past, they link their brand with the idea of familiarity. In a world that now changes faster than ever, familiarity can evoke powerful feelings of security, comfort, and trust.

Nostalgia is so powerful that even tech companies, who constantly preach a future of innovation and disruption in their messaging, call on it from time to time. For instance, I recently created a customer presentation for Microsoft that leveraged several quotes from Bill Gates’ book, Business @ the Speed of Thought. Never mind that Bill wrote it in 1999 and hasn’t run the company for years. It still resonated with the audience and made them feel good about the Microsoft of today.

For me, the Alaskan Way Viaduct serves as a marketing device for Old Seattle. It gives me that childhood feeling of the good old days—regardless if those times were actually better. It acts as an antidote to my adult anxieties about the rising cost of living or seeing Seattle transform into Amazon’s corporate campus. Nostalgia is obviously powerful stuff, but it’s important to remember that it’s more about feelings than facts. As both a marketer and a consumer, we must be thoughtful about employing nostalgia and recognize when it clouds our judgement.

This all illustrates a greater truth: for humans, change is hard yet necessary for progress. So with that said, goodbye Viaduct. Thanks for the great views of Elliot Bay and speedy, toll-free trips to the airport. Now let’s toss the rose-colored glasses and look forward to the greater good.