Nostalgic Branding : Is It Right For Your Business?

Looking back can be a profitable forward thinking strategy for many brands, with careful due diligence and appropriate application. Nostalgia often evokes positive emotions such as warmth, security and a sense of comfort in the familiar.


These ‘feel-good’ associations can then be successfully transferred to your brand. Nostalgic brands are somehow seen as more ‘authentic’ and truthful – a brand that can ‘trusted’ in its genuine and well-rooted provenance. A sense of continuity and stability in a world of fast paced change, transience, increasing consumer distrust and instant gratification.


Some brands such as Coca Cola already have a rich heritage of nostalgia they can drawn on, which is guaranteed to catch the imagination of older consumers. Conversely they also appeal to a younger age group, which wasn’t even born first-time around but still love the products for their now-fashionable nostalgic look.


The success of the relatively new make-up brand Benefit is a good example of ‘nostalgic branding’. Their entire range has a 1950s faux-vintage feel and is aimed at a market of 20 to 30-something females.


Benefit Makeup 600px


In these tougher post-recessionary times, evoking a time period where life was apparently better, in some respects, can be a very successful move. In fact many brands leveraging this kind of strategy have exceeded expectations and impressively boosted their ratings, according to the Brand Power Index (BPI). This quarterly ratings tool highlights companies who have grabbed audience attention using both traditional advertising and social media channels.


One of these brands is Herbal Essences who played on their original 1980s TV adverts to win a 27 per cent increase in brand popularity. To enhance the nostalgic feel their ‘new’ campaign kept the original packaging of the Shine and Smooth range.



In a short video Microsoft Windows listed what they considered the big trends of the 1980s and 90s and explained their script with the succinct tagline “You grew up. So did we.” This resulted in an 18 per cent rise in popularity on the BPI scale.



The California wine company Sangwine set out to evoke a late 50s and early 60s nostalgic feel with its minimalist new labels which were designed with the popular colour palette of that time – mustard yellow, turquoise and brown in a strong colour blocking style.


Sangwine Retro 600px


Tesco’s Mr Nicecream range again infers more innocent, happier times with its distinct signature turquoise and sweet pink packaging and use of evocative typography for a new range of ice cream sandwiches, cones, toppings and sauces. While avoiding all the typical clichés it reminds older consumers of a period when ice cream was bought from a much love ice cream van which called to their local home street, ringing a bell or playing a tune to announce its arrival, rather than getting it from the local supermarket, and the almost diagrammatic illustrative style of the fun cartoon character is set to appeal to a younger consumer.


Tesco Ice Cream


Vintage Branding : What are the Advantages?

  • It can create an attractive feel-good emotional connection and a strong sense of reassuring familiarity with consumers
  • Vintage style packaging can have unique distinctions which help it stand out from ‘modern’ contenders simply because it’s different to its more contemporary counterparts
  • The vintage look of some brand packaging can appeal more to certain target consumers, especially an older generation, who identify it with perceived ‘better times’
  • Younger consumers can view nostalgic branding in a ‘popular’ light
  • There’s no need to re-educate the consumer on what the brand is all about or stands for (provided it still has relevance) as the older generation know from first-time round and they’ve passed it on to their offspring. How many of you buy brands because your mother did?


Of course a nostalgic branding strategy doesn’t suit all companies. Reviving a brand line is all very well but today’s consumers expect more than just the original packaging or taste. A food or drink, which was popular in a bygone era, may not fit with today’s nutritional requirements, taste preferences or have the same relevance today.


It must also be noted too, that a brand’s ‘personality’ has to fit within the nostalgic context in which it’s placed e.g Hovis is a long established brand viewed by many consumers as a nurturing brand so nostalgia in this context has relevance. There’s no point trying to use nostalgia as part of your brand message if it’s incongruent with your whole brand offering. Is there room in your sector for another vintage style product? Or is it already over-subscribed and in order to differentiate itself it makes more sense for a brand to take an alternative approach?


It’s also important to look at the whole idea of nostalgia in a broader cultural and consumer sentiment context. For instance, once the recessionary sense of uncertainty and anxiety reduces and consumers start to feel more confident and forward looking again, while seeking out the ‘next big thing’, will reverting to a nostalgic branding strategy still remain relevant or have the same appeal?


When a Nostalgic Brand Fails

The owners of roadside café brand Little Chef finally admitted defeat last month when the company was put up for sale. A family – and truckers – favourite for more than 55 years the restaurant chain underwent a rebrand back in 2004. Fat Charlie (the iconic plate-wielding chef) was slimmed down and the plate removed. The product and service, however, remained much the same. And yet the nostalgic brand seemed to fit in with societal changes where thousands of Britons were cutting costs and holidaying at home.


Little Chef 600px


Last year in a last ditch attempt to improve sales innovative chef Heston Blumenthal arrived with a new menu and customers such as Victoria Beckham and Eric Clapton. The product changed, but it wasn’t what consumers were looking for. Little Chef is a sad lesson in the need to correctly assess both market sentiment and consumer needs before launching into any type of re-branding exercise – whether nostalgia related or not.


• Does your brand have enough relevant heritage to capitalise on a ‘nostalgic brand strategy’?


• If you are considering using nostalgia as part of your brand strategy, which era would your brand be most suited to?


• How crowded is the market place currently for nostalgia brands within your sector?

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