Competition between brands has never been fiercer. The landscape is saturated, and consumers are increasingly cynical about the way we market to them. Brands need to get smarter and engage with their audiences on an emotional level.
One of the most effective ways to do this is through the power of nostalgia—ideas we might see as old hat could, actually, be the key CMOs need to untie consumers’ heart and purse strings.
We long for nostalgia because it transports us back to our childhoods. It makes us feel safe, especially given these uncertain, scary times. It turns out 75% of people aged 35-54 regularly watch YouTube videos relating to past events or people, according to Google/Ipsos Connect 2016 survey. That’s a lot of hits for old episodes of “The Clangers.”
The Appeal Of Authenticity
Nostalgia evokes feelings consumers might not get from new ideas. The amount of ads we’re subjected to on a daily basis is beyond annoying—it borders on fatiguing. Nostalgia cuts through the noise with one quick, “Aaaaah, I remember that thing!”
And that lends itself to brand authenticity. You’re hitting those warm, fuzzy feelings of childhoods well spent, and that leads audiences into perceiving the brand in that same light. It just comes down to human behavior—people trust in things they already know.
But before CMOs start raiding the cultural history books, if your relaunched brand, idea, or ad campaign is to appeal to a newer market, simply exhuming the corpses of brands, campaigns, or films gone by isn’t enough.
People need something relatable. The recent ad for Bud Light’s U.K. relaunch was a throwback to Budweiser’s original, iconic campaign from 1995. It resonated with those of us who remember it, but the product’s new target audience—mainly health-conscious 20-30 year-olds—didn’t have a clue. It was lost on them. To use nostalgia to their advantage, brands have to do what German music band Kraftwerk does so expertly—roll out the hits, but update them with culturally and technologically relevant touchstones.
Furry Characters Come Back
Game developers SEGA and Activision have both done this recently. The former unleashed its iconic “Sonic the Hedgehog” on mobile last month, while the latter re-issued its first three classic “Crash Bandicoot” games on PS4. “Sonic remains largely unchanged—it’s just you can play it on your mobile, amid a slew of other SEGA titles. “Crash,” meanwhile, underwent major surgery in the graphics department, with extra levels, audio, and playable characters. Both brands revived their beloved furry characters in wildly different ways, but they’re unified by one common thread—it’s something new.
The crux of it is putting a new spin on an old idea. Both “Sonic” and “Crash” have a lovely chunk of nostalgia that will appeal to an older demographic, given the time since the originals were released, while a younger demographic will be aware of the games’ legacies and up to date with the platforms they inhabit.
It’s all rose-tinted, but, in the cold light of day, this approach is achieving success—“Crash” is the best-selling single-platform game of the year thus far. Not because it was the most innovative thing in the world, not because it was shocking or dangerous, but because it made a connection. It stood up and said: “Hey, remember this thing you/your parents loved? Here it is again, but it’s even cooler.”
Is The Story Worth Telling?
So the next, vital stage is for CMOs to identify which brands still resonate with old fans, and how to sell them to new audiences. That’s the only way they can make relaunches work. The content still needs to be relevant, to some degree. Myspace’s reported $20 million relaunch failed because its model wasn’t relevant to new or old users. The story needs to be worth telling again, in this day and age—whether that be through a new medium, with a fresh twist, or, otherwise, can be hashed out and finessed as you go along. But it needs to mean something.
The relaunch of ’70s disco fashion brand Fiorucci is a perfect example to end on. Known for high-waisted jeans, shiny platforms, and cherry prints, its original stock would look slightly dated in 2017, even given the vintage revival. Instead, the brand’s key visuals have been applied to 21st-century fashion, with Georgia May Jagger modelling the summer range. It’s bang up to date without losing its character or charm.
To move forward, it seems we sometimes have to step back. We need to identify the old things that consumers hold so dear, and find a new way of making them worth buying again. The people want nostalgia—give it to them.