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Brand Conversations: Nostalgia Marketing Now for Brands!

Presenting 5 tangible strategic guidelines for specific categories that establish how exploring Nostalgia Marketing Now could be viable:

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Lyrics from Padma Bhushan Jagjit Singh’s iconic ghazal written by Sudarshan Fakir, released way back in 1982, continue to strike a chord with every generation. Many other such classics can be part of the list: like ‘Yesterday Once More’ by The Carpenters, ‘Summer of 69’ by Bryan Adams, the famous ‘Dil Dhundta Hai’ song from the movie Aandhi, penned by Gulzaar saab and sung by Bhupinder, or ‘Yaaron Dosti Badi Hi Haseen Hai’ from the movie Rockford and recently ‘Woh Din Bhi Kya Din Thei’ from the movie Chichore. The list could be far longer of course and what appeals may vary from person to person. However, be that as it may, it is almost a global truth that music that can take you back in time is universal favourite. There is a reason why these songs and their music work. They never fail to takes us back to a time where we felt a deep sense of genuine happiness. Of being in the world of carefree, fearless and defining memories.

While music here is works as an apt example, there are many other methods that can rekindle this nostalgia powerfully. For example, all of us have been part of those ‘early days of TV in India’ group conversations where everyone loves to take a trip down memory lane. It all starts with just one person asking, ‘Hey guys, do you remember Giant Robot ..’ others add yes ‘what about Small Wonder, Mahabharat, Fauji, Nukkad, Star Trek, Hum Log, Different Strokes or Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi.. Another person adds ‘you know, I still remember the sequence of the TV shows on Sunday. Some else joins in with ‘you know I even remember all the sponsors, all the ads..' The discussion then goes into the experience of watching these shows in those days, on a shared single TV screen along with 20 neighbours. And the conversation it continues for a long, long time.

So, what does all this that have to do with marketing?The answer lies in the lyrics of ‘Woh Kaghaz ki kasthi’ – ‘Yeh daulat bhi le lo ,yeh shauhrat bhi le lo’ … magar mujh ko lauta do, bachpan ka saawan. (If literally translated it means take away all my wealth and fame but return my childhood) Perhaps not to be taken as literally, but it shows how valued and precious are the nostalgia of memories. Riding on marketing nostalgia offers great promise that can help brands win. This is a proven reality.

Another reality, is in the post pandemic scenario has got us to rethink our notions of what we should value and cherish more. The warmth of returning to the memories of the past does provide a sense comfort and happiness. Hence revisiting the blissful times of yore is even more sought after.

Now if this naturally falls within the possibilities and parameters of a brand, then it could be a great advantage. And certainly, worth a thorough assessment at the least for every marketer. Ultimately, to each their own, for what makes it to the cut, as it is always a consideration of many dimensions.  

Presenting 5 tangible strategic guidelines for specific categories that establish how exploring Nostalgia Marketing Now could be viable:

1. Nostalgia Marketing Now is fairly Frugal:

This concept was revealed to me for the very first time as a personal experience. If you would indulge me for a bit, let me take you back to my own interesting nostalgia story to explain how I learnt about it. In my college days, I was living in a hostel and few steps from there was a famous North Indian food restaurant.This value for money and minimalistic ambience restaurant, was known for simple yet delicious cuisine. As a result, the restaurant was swamped with hostel students from several nearby colleges. Even in the college holiday months, the place would be full of other management students who had come down for their management training placements from other cities.

The owner, who also managed the cash counter, was a fan of old Hindi film songs by the singers like Hemant Kumar, Talat Mehmood and Geeta Dutt to name a few. And therefore, songs by such singers softly played through the day at his restaurant from his antique vinyl collection, on an equally ancient music system. It was my favourite and regular destination and over the years I developed a strong bond with the owner. Perhaps that’s why even after finishing college and beginning my career, I continued to visit the restaurant. I would land up after office and often end up being the last customer. On some days, the owner would come and sit across to chat with me while winding up for the day.Being a fresh enthusiastic evangelist of marketing, I sometimes took the liberty of having arguments around revamping the place, add in air-conditioning and increase profitability with him. He would usually humour me for a bit and take the discussion further. But I will never forget the day when he sat down and responded to me in detail.

A group of college students from a nearby hostel was walking out of the restaurant, nibbling the complimentary mouth-freshner (souf). He sat down at my table and looking at the group calmly said to me, ‘Do you think if I revamp this restaurant, all these young students could afford to come and eat here? He continued, saying ‘for me, my restaurant is also about the clientele I have decided to serve as a meaningful purpose. And as you know, I buy fresh vegetables every morning myself and take home the same food I serve customers for my own dinner.I can keep my prices and low and yet, I do not compromise on quality. Only by being frugal on my operating costs, I can offer the prices that I do. Will I be able to do that?’

His reply let me a bit stunned and I didn’t have an answer. Although I had another question.I promptly asked him if young students were his focus, what was the logic behind the old hindi film music he playedand how it would make sense to them? He smiled and paused for a bit, and said, ‘I suggest you wait. The answer to your question will automatically come to you over time’

And he was so right. Like me, anyone who had ever dined at this restaurant, always recalls the taste of the food with the nostalgic memory of the old music that played there.It didn’t matter that the music playing was from the 1940’s.It continued to be the stand out reason for recalling the restaurant’s distinct identity. More so, decade after decade, the restaurant remained unchanged but Nostalgia Marketing still kept adding to its legacy.Andthat is frugal right?

So, in addition to be driven by purpose, as a bonus, marketing nostalgia also enables the use local inputs, traditional processes and resources, thereby bringing in a lower operating cost benefit. The advantage for a brand that pursues this direction is that it can remain indigenous, taking ahead the ‘Make in India’ proposition and without requiring any international endorsements or collaboration. And that in itself contributes to being frugal.

2. Nostalgia Marketing Now could be a huge money saver

Most of us may be familiar with the concept of building brand awareness and the effort and investment required that goes behind building it. For those who may not know, here is a simple explanation: When a brand is created with a certain objective or purpose, one of the significant tasks is to establish it in the minds of the consumers that it is targeting.This establishment of the brand is what results in the building brand awareness in consumers and its measurement is provided by research agencies. Generating brand awareness is typically an ongoing process and entails substantial investments.

For a brand to be high on recall, it is crucial to continue maintaining certain levels of brand awareness and the expenditure thereof.The threshold or base level of awareness required is also be defined by the presence and awareness levels of other competitive brands.

Over a period of time, brands that may cease to exist in the market may witness a gradual decline of awareness and may drop out completely over a period of time. Some but not all brands may drop out completely, and it is here that where a hidden treasure chest of gems may exist. 

Here I would like to introduce the concept which I have termed ‘Latent Brand Awareness’

Despite ceasing to exist in the market, the awareness of some brands remains dormantly present in customers minds owing to them sharing a strong bond with the brand. This latent brand awareness is a huge advantage to work around if there is a case to bring back such brands under Marketing Nostalgia initiatives. 

All it may require to reinstate such brands is the minimal igniting of a few triggers that bring alive the latent brand awareness as active brand awareness. To find out how this will work, we need to first understand why this happens.

India as a market often defeats global trends for the demand of the same products across other markets in the world where an MNC operates. This happens because in India, we cater to needs of far higher multiple audience and geographical segments that vary. The concept can be more specifically seen in entry segment products and durables. Usually when a brand seems to reach towards the end of its life stage, there is a need to take it off the shelf and bring in the next version or generation. Globally, across other markets when the 4th or 5th generation of durable or automobile may have rolled out and earlier versions would have been taken off the assembly line, India uniquely would have all 5 versions showing a demand. And so, if such a situation exists, where due to manufacturing constraints, earlier versions may have been pulled out in India, there is merit in understanding if they stand a chance to be brought back.

Another factor that could work is the converse logic of the above. Let’s continue to look at, the automobiles category for illustration. Hypothetically speaking, suppose there is brand ‘Vqx’, a perfectly sound car launched 5 years ago that continues to enjoy latent awareness in its segment. It had a moderate start but after the initial 6 months, demand started to taper and eventually since sales were low, it eventually went out of the market. It may have lost out on demand due to other cars launched with the top-preferred features of that time like design and style.

Today the preferences, needs and requirements of buyers seem to have changed again with the current scenario. There may be merit therefore in evaluating if the brand Vqx still meets the parameters. For example, buyers may be seeking greater safety or more space in the current times (versus design and style earlier). The auto category seems to seeing a decent run on sales and bringing back such a product could be worth evaluating. Nostalgia marketing is also seen in the recent return of motorbike brands that had a cult following in the 80’s.

Now let’s talk about the triggers that can be useful to fuel latent brand awareness. A deeper assessment of the brand, will throw up solutions. It could be the use of a simple brand pneumonic that is part of the its identity that could work as a trigger. (We have all seen how the voice of Padam Shri Ameen Sayani is often used as a narrative in the storytelling of content to create a ‘back in time’ aura.) The use of audio is a powerful and low-cost trigger that could innovatively to announce the brand’s return. For example, it could be related to the distinct sound of the vehicle’s engine for a motorbike or a stellar jingle ad that everyone still remembers.

In today’s time building awareness for a brand launch could cost anywhere in the range of Rs.150-200 Mn at the minimum. If one can discover latent brand awareness available even in a dated brand asset you own, consider a lot of that money saved. And then work hard towards finding out how Nostalgia Marketing can bring back the brand.

3. Nostalgia Marketing Now could be a money spinner (& a heart winner)

In India, if there is a peak of nostalgic emotion, it has to be during the festive season when everyone recalls happy memories of celebration over the years with family and friends. It is the reassuring sentiment of a time of wellbeing that we all relish across the nation. During this period (as we are witnessing right now), there is a surge in consumer spends on account of festive purchases.

Hence the peak of nostalgia also coincides with the peak of consumer spending in India.

This could be a great opportunity to leverage Nostalgia marketing, especially in this post pandemic stage, where the happiness of festivity as it is remembered must be recreated despite all the constraints.

All brands that score here will not only win over competition; they will win the hearts of customers as well.

4. Nostalgia Marketing Now can provide a winning edge

To explain this concept, using the food related categories for illustration works well. A set of 2 very obvious facts can provide the foundation to build an approach: Fact 1: Most of us our very nostalgic about the comfort food that has defined our childhood. So much so that even today, we love to go back and revisit that taste. This was food made with traditional and unique family recipes never fails to back happy memories. Fact 2: We also know the benefits of the natural ingredients used in these recipes that are being lauded and how they help in building immunity that we require today.

Getting a powerful combination of these two facts to work together as a robust marketing proposition for a brand could really become a stellar, cutting edge initiative.

Even beyond this illustration, the combination of food, flavour and nostalgia have a deep connection and many other avenues to consider. This powerful combination is another interesting space to explore. We all have memories of the excitement food could bring for us in our childhood. For some it was the favourite ice cream stick after school, for others it was the reward restaurant treats and for most it was the best chaat, puchka, gol-gappa or pani-puri we had in our lives. Some of these memories now lost in time, are centred around a certain happiness that money cannot buy. What if there was a way this happiness could be recreated?

And as a next step, a list of their cherished nostalgia food treats could be offered as redeemable reward points using an innovative fulfilment mechanism method. Basically, the idea is to leverage the power of the human mind to reimagine and recreate the past and the memories of happiness that surrounded it. The possibilities are therefore infinite.

A plethora of similar opportunities can be identified across categories to leverage for great outcomes. There certainly is a lot of such potential waiting to be explored here for brands and categories to gain by riding on the back of Nostalgia marketing.

5. Nostalgia marketing Now has its own ecosystem to thrive on

With all that has happened around us this year, the times that we are in, there seems to be a continuing happiness deficit. We all believe this must change.

Nostalgia marketing provides a great opportunity to bring back happiness, by revisiting moments in our history that brought the nation pride. Leading producers of content in the country have identified this trend as a massive opportunity and are using large scale formats to recreate these landmark moments as content themes. These themes span the historical events featuring India’s sporting conquests, diplomatic triumphs, break through inventions and other landmark achievements in science and technology.

The common space between marketing, communication and consumers – is content and media. Here lies a possible masterstroke for a heritage brand to play out, considering it discovers its own goldmine of marketing nostalgia. By integration and association with the content, the brand needs to establish its presence and contribution in those moments of history and how it remains an unchanged favourite across generations! Riding the large scale, multimedia presence that usually goes behind such content, the brand will gain huge prominence with its association. The content integration itself of course will provide long terms presence and mass reach, making the brand a star amongst the stars!

In conclusion, would like to state that if this approach is pursued, it should happen with full conviction and belief. To be considered with meaning and purpose and not mere tokenism.



Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Deepak Netram

The author is Marketing Consultant, Dreamforce Associates, enabling brands to enhance festive outcomes. He can be reachable at DreamforceAssociates@gmail.com

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