Looking Back to Move Forward: How Nostalgia Sells Brands


If I’m being honest, recent global events have made me nostalgic. Typically, I like to live in the moment but recently I’ve found myself digging through old photos and journals in search of…? I’m not sure. These trips down memory lane feel comforting thoughts, in a childlike way. There is a tendency to glamorize the past, looking through rose-colored spectacles at simpler, less complex times. But one thing is for sure – Marketers know that these nostalgic feelings sell brands.

Take for example recent additions to the marketplace such as the Olipop soda brand. Their simple chic packaging leverages nostalgia in a way that triggers a recall that isn’t there – but somehow we believe in its authenticity. Fitch and Leedes lean heavily into a kitschy 50’s genre for their brand of tonics and mixers. The retro brand sends strong trust & quality signals to consumers that say “this is a brand that has stood the test of time and endured.”

A few years ago, a flagging cereal category released limited edition nostalgic packaging in the hope of inspiring Gen X and younger Boomers into revisiting their favorite childhood flavors. The problem with this is that it’s a short-lived fantasy. Say Fruity Pebbles was your thing back in the day. You see it packaged the way you remember it and it sparks good memories of Big Wheels and The Flintstones. You might even buy it. But these types of purchases are one-offs as most of us don’t have the constitution to eat sugary cereal the way we used to. Predictably, nothing could save the cereal category from its inevitable decline. However, Pabst Blue Ribbon has found an ingenious workaround. Their newest offering -– a Hard Coffee – is said to taste exactly like YooHoo Chocolate Milk. By tapping into a taste instead of just a graphic approach, PBR may well have found the perfect way to be nostalgic for childhood without abandoning reality completely.

Other brands are using flavor as a way to bring consumers into the fold by leveraging holistic wellness in an unusual way.  With flavors like Classic Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Milk, Slate beverages with a low sugar and high protein claim will certainly bring back happy memories and cue happier times thus keeping your mind AND body healthy. Cue the serotonins!

Finally, let’s not forget the heritage brands that are having another minute in the spotlight. As we face challenges buying fresh food during this time of social distancing, tried and true shelf stable brands are thriving as consumers rediscover their favorites from childhood – foods like Hamburger Helper and Chef Boyardee.  Time will tell whether this is a permanent change in consumer behaviors but, Jon Nudi, head of General Mills, North American would like to think so.

 “Right now, we have people trying the products they haven’t had for a while, and we hope they’re surprised and find that they’re delicious and that we have them come back,” he is quoted as saying in the New York Times back in early April.*

Regardless, brands that focus on creating stronger emotional bonds between consumers and their products, especially in childhood and early adulthood, will find that those bonds are strong and lasting. As we weather our current circumstances, when the future is uncertain, we can all take some comfort in reminiscing in the way things used to be – because sometimes looking back is the best way to move forward. 

Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/

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