The nostalgia trend in marketing: Can brands enjoy the same success second time round?

Nostalgia is an effective way for brands to connect to people, as they tap into the past with well-loved figures, ad campaigns, taglines and products. No matter the era revisited, this tactic enables consumers to relive memories, and if done correctly, creates positive brand association.

Adidas, for example, recently relaunched its iconic Gazelle trainers using Kate Moss, who fronted the original ads 25 years ago. While at the beginning of June, we saw the return of Carlsberg’s ‘probably’ campaign. A simple slogan, it’s a wonder the beer brand ever dropped it. Similarly, Co-op announced it was reverting to its 1960s logo in May, to reflect and reaffirm its community values that made it such a success in the first place.

These are just a number of relaunches this year by brands who are looking to drive and connect with consumers on a powerful emotional level. But while some relaunches have the ability to play on these values and succeed, others will fail to hit the spot and disappear back to the brand history books.

One of the key things that separates relaunch success and failure lies in whether the brand is able to retell its story for a new generation. Success second time round can’t come as a carbon copy of what you have done before. Successful brands can lean on the legacy of the past to a degree, but to avoid alienating both old and new consumers of their brand, they must show that they are in tune with what customers want today.

A name only goes so far

A name can be powerful, but you can only trade on your history for so long. Take the failed relaunch of Myspace. A social titan back in the day, it was swept away by the likes of Facebook and Twitter as it took its eye off its millennial audience. In 2013 the network relaunched with a reported $20m ad spend behind it – but its model was simply no longer relevant to its old users, and it certainly wasn’t appealing to new audiences either.

And while the mere whisper of Woolworths may evoke fond memories in our hearts, it doesn’t mean that it’s a brand that consumers still need – as evidenced by the return, and eventual fall of woolworths.co.uk. It’s important that you do your research, and identify that the brand, campaign or product still has a true reason to exist.

Reinvention is a must

The story you tell needs to be relevant to the needs of audiences both old and new. Consumer tastes are constantly shifting and the channels through which we market are hugely fluid.

Fashion is an area where it is perhaps easier to relaunch a brand or product; after all, vintage remains a big trend and fashion is nothing if not cyclical. Yet you still need to innovate to ensure that this time around the brand, campaign or product you’re relaunching is just as exciting and relevant as it was when it was first introduced.

The Gazelle campaign may have re-used Kate Moss, but it wasn’t a re-roll of the same campaign 25 years on. Adidas has incorporated new talent in the form of Instagram collage artist and influencer Doug Abraham to help retell the story for new audiences, who, let’s face it, probably couldn’t even tie their shoes at the time of the original launch. But the campaign is equally inclusive of old audiences – keen to re-wear and rework their 90s style.

In another example of reinvention, Elle has this month announced a magazine relaunch set to hit the newsstands in September. In the face of falling print sales, the title plans to launch with a new format geared towards advertisers and the all-important millennial market. Banking on the value of the Elle brand to help lead the charge, the magazine is trialling new tactics to boost the print mag – including customisable, print your own covers and new distribution channels including through high-end fashion retailers. Interestingly the relaunch is being led by Elle UK’s editor in chief, Lorraine Candy, who’s been at the helm for the last 13 years – continuity and reinvention in one.

So in summary, it’s clear to see that there are two dynamics at play. In a fast-moving world, brands can feel under enormous pressure to reinvent themselves for new times and tastes. Yet it’s important that any changes they make are finely tuned not to alienate existing and future audiences. Equally, nostalgia is a strategy that has powerful resonance for all sorts of consumers. But while such warm sentimental feelings can provide a quick connection, if that connection is superficial and not properly thought through, then its success is likely to be short lived. The drive to remain relevant is all important if you want to succeed.

George Roberts is client services director at Five by Five

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George Roberts

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