Getting the Nostalgia bug out of our collective systems: how the search for authenticity has created an all too-trodden path

Caramel Bunny blast from the past; Caramel's Bunny is back (pic source from Kerry Wheelers blog)

you may have noticed them, the old-stlye fonts, the birth dates in shop windows, the retro copy, the return of longed for icons (see above)…  yes, it would seem that a whole herd of marketing folk have collectively led adland into nostalgia-ville.  and adland not only likes the place but has moved in, made itself at home, and started churning out nostaligia ads like they're going out of fashion.  as if.

Hovis kicked everything off last year with this effort – two whole glorious minutes of British history as seen thru the eyes of a boy with a loaf of bread…

very shortly after this I can imagine 'make me a Hovis' was heard in meeting room in and around the capital.  a sentiment no doubt encouraged by the worsening economic climate.  in a world of increasing uncertainty, a reminder that a brand had been around for a bit was a reassuring thing indeed.

then came Virgin's lovely effort in which we recalled the gloriousness that was 1984.  brick-shaped cell phones, mullets, Wimpy bore witness to a pilot and his crew who reminded us in no uncertain terms that Virgin were still red hot after a quarter century.

but it's this year that the nostalgia train really started ploughing down the tracks.  Dirt is Good was abandoned by Persil in favour of reminding us that they're been Tough but Gentle for 100 years…

…and then May saw not one but two retail giants battle it out for the nostalgia crown – with Sainsbury's reminding us how they'd been trying something new since 1869 (that's 140 years)…

…and M&S rolled their 21st Century campaign-packaging out (thats Twiggy) to celebrate 125 years since their first penny bazaar opened (that's 1884 if you were working it out)

so what to make of it all?  of the avalanche of nostalgia that's hit us all of late?  is it co-incidence?  bad timing?  in some instances possibly, but there's no doubt that a recessionary mentality has kicked in.  as Stew G has noted writing for Vizeum, the recession is forcing all brands (and especially retail brands) to demonstrate affordability without compromising on product or service: hence the lower price + still good quality = value for money equation playing out all around us.

and this is arguably where the above tranche of ads come in to play.  prices may be dropping all around us but any brand that's been around for over 100 years has heritage, and presumably with it, authenticity and quality.  as a short cut, it would seem to play.

but there are flaws with the strategy.  firstly it's increasingly very undifferentiating.  secondly it's very brand rather than consumer focussed…  of course its all packaged up in stuff that's been done to benefit consumers (Sainsbury's made good food affordable for all, M&S are changing the way we treat our planet) but it does all eventally come across as a bit of an indulgence – a bit like an internal communications project with a bit too much budget to play with.

as John observed in a puppy-feeding post, it can all start to feel a bit too retrospective: "We want to buy things from companies we feel understand the modern world, not ones that are stuck in the past"

perhaps we can just hope that they've all gotten it out of they're collective system now…  and we can get back to developing marketing communications that tell differentiated brand stories about the products and services that exist for existing and potential customers.

then again, if the below is anything to go by, the nostalgia trip is far from over…  I'd say enjoy, but…


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