Vinay Kanchan
Guest Article

Is nostalgia the future?

The past can always be revisited; even in, perhaps especially in, marketing and branding scenarios.

In fact, the entertainment industry has been binging on this idea over the last few years. Consider the recent release of The Lion King and Aladdin, plus the many sequels for the likes of The Fast and the Furious and The Star Wars franchises; and that’s just scratching the surface of the screen. Bollywood too has remade films like Sholay, Don, Agneepath and Chashme Baddoor, others threaten to follow. Then there is the recent musical trend of recasting an old (usually 70's or 80’s) mega hit song in a new avatar. Apparently, nothing sounds newer than an old tune repackaged.

And people used to think entertainment ran around the eternal quest for the fresh and the new!

Could this trend present an interesting strategic riddle for those in branding?

Is it now about moving the conversation from seeking ‘the new and improved’ to returning to the ‘tested and loved’?

While the jury is still out on this, a few compelling points present themselves.

1-Brands have nostalgia built into their DNA

As markets grew and distribution possibilities increased, the concept of brands began with the need to establish an assurance of trust and quality leading to repeat purchase. This meant that the consumer essentially was coming back for that ‘familiar pleasant feeling’. In a sense, brand experiences provided those ‘little bursts of nostalgia’. In an ever changing world where emotions wandered rampantly, this promised a return to happiness, stability and a sense of calm. This emotion of equanimity was usually centered on turning back the clock to a past moment which one savoured. Almost paradoxically, as time went relentlessly forward, brands made their mark by giving consumers the benefits of ‘mini flashbacks’ of moments they would love to revisit.

2-New media strengthens the desire for the old

There has been an absolute proliferation of media in this century, digital and otherwise. Media often thrives on bringing ‘the new’ to audiences. News has to be about new happenings and developments. These excessive options demand more 'new' to be unearthed and unloaded onto the populace. This can be rather disconcerting, even overwhelming for the average person who might tend to feel left behind. If that was not enough in itself, there is always the ‘doom and gloom’ template which most media brands revel in. The fragmentation within the country, the looming economic crisis, the crumbling infrastructure, the rise of artificial intelligence, the erosion of jobs, the plot line of your favourite TV serials going nowhere (just kidding); all serve to increase the anxiety levels of recipients. Inevitably, young adults (and even the occasional teenager) find themselves craving for days gone by, where things were ‘so much better’.

3-The return of ‘the old gang syndrome’

Perhaps all social media harkened to this in some manner, but the explosion of the WhatsApp groups really cemented this phenomenon. People began to get back together like they probably never had in all of human history. School groups, college groups, office groups, one-time trip buddies and two-time waiting for a job interview in the line pals, all found a stage to reconnect and relive old experiences. And brands usually found their way into these conversations. Think of the Parle-G biscuits people reminisced munching on at the chai tapris outside colleges, or for that matter the ‘missed calls code’ on one’s Nokia phones to indicate it was time to come down. Rekindling old contacts has become a huge social trend, and it should not just be of interest to matchmaking platforms.

To conclude, ‘stop living in the past!’ is quite a frequently occurring modern day censure, usually directed at those who refuse to move on. But celebrating the days gone by just might represent a new, almost counter intuitive, branding strategy. The huge success of Saregama Carvaan should represent an emblematic and inspiring example of a brand which went against the present fixation with the new and made consumers rewind with delight. Surely more such cases are in the offing.

Don Draper had waxed eloquently about nostalgia during his Sony Carousel pitch citing it, among other things, as ‘delicate but potent’. Perhaps it’s time for the mad men and women in branding to heed the power of this emotion. The future of their brands might depend on it.

(Vinay Kanchan is a brand storyteller, innovation catalyst and the author of Sportivity)