Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be

Looking at the latest TV advertising campaigns you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole of Adland has discovered the secret of time travel.

Advertising icons like the Milky Bar Kid and the Hovis boy and his bike are back, as are Mellow Birds coffee, Arctic Roll and the Wispa Bar.

Nostalgia is very much the advertising craze of the moment and it’s all down to the recession. Tough times leave us looking back to what we seem to feel were better days when life was simpler and happier. It’s as if we are suffering mass memory loss.

Zoe Wood’s recent article in the Guardian summed up the trend brilliantly. In it she reported that: “According to industry observers, this outbreak of heritage-mania is all down to the recession. Retailers and household brands from Sainsbury’s to Marks & Spencer, Guinness to Hovis have been plundering their archives to persuade the public to purchase their products.

“Nostalgia always becomes more important when times are tough, as traditional values become more important,” said Steve Sharp, marketing director of Marks & Spencer, which is marking its 125th year with a weighty coffee table book and a new Twiggy advert shot in a Victorian street.

“That is a natural human reaction and advertisers play to that. When people are feeling constrained and concerned we have to communicate our values stronger than we normally would.”

Sainsbury’s is also using the excuse of its 140th anniversary to transport customers back to a time before celebrity chefs, when life was simpler than a Jamie Oliver recipe and it sold butter and eggs from a shop on Drury Lane. Sainsbury’s customer director Gwyn Burr said: “Customers are telling us that history is very important to them. Many of our competitors have not been around as long as us and we have seen customers through good and bad times before.”

Having just relaunched the Sherbet Fountain in new modern plastic packaging for Tangerine Confectionery, I can fully understand the appeal of traditional brands and the role that nostalgia plays in helping maintain their success.

However, nostalgia must be tempered with a recognition that whilst we enjoy looking back, we don’t often crave the brand experiences of 20 or 30 years ago. Do many people really prefer Mellow Birds to a latte from Costa Coffee or a Milky Bar to Green & Blacks chocolate bar?

The danger for brands looking backwards is that once the recession ends, as it surely will, they will be left looking out of date and loose market share to up and coming brands more in-tune with changing consumer tastes.

The secret, as with the Sherbet Fountain, is not only to communicate your heritage, but to continue to modernise in order to remain relevant.

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