Aishwarya Ramesh

Back to the future: How do iconic brands fare when revived after a break?

Reliance recently announced that it will be acquiring Campa Cola, and Lambretta scooters are set to make a comeback. What lies ahead for brands that receive a new lease of life?

Reliance Industries (RIL) is seemingly on an acquisition spree. First came the acquisition of homegrown brand Campa Cola, which cost the company nearly Rs 22 crore. According to a Times Now report, RIL is now in talks with South Indian company CavinKare to take over the snacks brand Garden Namkeen, as well as the D2C beverage company Lahori and Bindu Beverages.

RIL's acquisition plans come hot on the heels of its announcement about its planned entry into the FMCG market at its annual general meeting on September 3, 2022.

Campa Cola isn’t the only brand that’s attempting to make a comeback. In 2019, on popular demand, Parle brought back its Rola-Cola candy. In 2021, Bajaj announced that it would be bringing back its Chetak scooter in an electric avatar.

Brands making a comeback in recent times
Brands making a comeback in recent times

2022 saw the resurrection of Hindustan Motors’ iconic Ambassador car, as well as Ideal Jawa’s Yezdi Motorcycles. Recently, Lambretta, the company most famous for its scooters, announced that it would be returning to India in an electric avatar in 2024.

Ambi Parameswaran, a brand consultant and former advertising professional, points out that nostalgia has been leveraged effectively in the automobile industry. The likes of iconic cars like Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Beetle, were discontinued and are eventually being brought back.

MG Parameswaran (Ambi)
MG Parameswaran (Ambi)

“It’s not enough if you bring back a nostalgia brand. There has to be energy and innovation injected into the product. This was the case with Yardley. It was initially a talc brand, but it expanded its product portfolio to suit current market needs, and made a comeback.”

Vejay Anand S, an independent brand consultant, points out in a blog post that when brands try to revive themselves, it doesn’t always work – simply because people have moved on.

Back to the future: How do iconic brands fare when revived after a break?

“Reviving a brand successfully requires an investment of time, money and dedication to avoid repeating past mistakes. The company also needs to invest in acquiring new consumers, who haven’t heard of the brand before.”

Anand adds that there is also the fact that young people in the metros are moving away from colas and other carbonated drinks, preferring healthier drinks like juices or niche products like mixers and mocktails instead. "Also, soft drinks are an impulse category and need huge amounts of marketing impetus or resources for sales to happen."

According to Anand, a defunct brand may not always have saliency by itself. “To add insult to injury, young people today may not even know about some well-known brands from their parents’ time. Nostalgia, emotions, etc., may breathe new life into a brand, but they aren’t guaranteed to keep it going.”

Sourabh Mishra, a brand strategist, and managing partner and co-founder, Azendor Consulting (former CSO at TBWA India and Saatchi & Saatchi), defines the word nostalgia as "a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition".

Mishra says that for a brand to be nostalgic, it has to exist as a memory and/or personal experience in its target audience’s minds.

“This yearning for an ideal that one hasn’t seen or experienced personally, but has heard of from others or read about or seen references in films/TV shows from that period or place, can be the basis to create a meaningful brand narrative for a ‘nostalgia brand’ aimed at an audience that has little or no personal experience of the old brand.”

There is a historical context to the conversation surrounding Campa Cola. It was first introduced in India in 1977. Then, the socialist Indian government, led by the late Morarji Desai, introduced the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA).

A Moneycontrol report states that before FERA was introduced, MNCs that operated in India, were wholly owned by their parent companies abroad. All the profits the company made from its India operations, were repatriated to its parent company. In response to FERA, Coca-Cola chose to exit India.

This made room for Indian companies to create homegrown beverages. The Pure Drinks Group was making Coca-Cola in India, and it introduced Campa Cola in 1977 to fill the gap in the market. This was the year products like Gold Spot, Limca, Double Seven, Citra and Thums Up entered the market.

A timeline of India's cola wars
A timeline of India's cola wars

In 1991, thanks to the economic reforms that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh introduced, Coca-Cola was able to make its way back into the country. The company acquired Thums Up, Gold Spot, Limca and Citra in 1993.

Vigyan Verma, founder of The Bottom Line, a brand consulting company, states, “The intention of the acquisition wasn’t to nurture the brands or help them grow, but it was to simply buy out the competition. Of these three, Thums Up and Limca had differentiating factors to it, whereas Gold Spot and Citra didn’t, which caused the company to pull the products off the market.”

Vigyan Verma
Vigyan Verma

Verma says that Reliance, even with its Jio network and phone offerings, is targeting members from Tier-II and III cities, and non-metro audiences. “It appears that RIL is looking to acquire localised brands that may not have scale or traction, in terms of distribution and growth, but have a defined audience that are familiar with the product.”

According to him, the best way to judge whether a nostalgia brand will succeed is to find out how core consumers feel about it. "It's likely that old brands (that existed 20-30 years ago), doesn’t mean a thing to the younger audiences personally.

When asked about the likelihood of success of a nostalgia brand that has been reintroduced in the current market, Verma pauses to think. “The majority of consumers in India are 30 years or younger. If they’ve heard positive things about the brand from their immediate circle, such as friends or family, they may have a positive perception of the brand and be willing to try it out.”

“But ultimately, what makes a product successful, isn’t vastly different. It still needs to have favourable taste, branding, etc., to appeal to consumers. It’s still important to create a good customer experience,” says Verma.

Mishra says that the most successful example of selling nostalgia, can be found in politics. The promise of a 'Ram Rajya' and 'Satya Yug' is tapping into an idea of an ideal state derived from our scriptures.

Sourabh Mishra
Sourabh Mishra

“But it is an idea that many yearn for, it seems, even though they have no personal experience of it. So, the idea of a brand that many young consumers may not have any personal experience of at all, can still work with them, if it identifies and taps into the common ground between the brand's heritage and what its intended younger consumers really care about in their own lives today.”

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