Barry Chuckle has passed away and 100,000 nostalgic tweets proclaimed him a much-loved part of a million childhoods.
If memory is fluid and remembering an active event, we can use positive reference points to ‘re-construct’ the past. If I think of the Chuckle Brothers, the catch phrase, or the TV theme tune, I connect them to childhood memories of banana sandwiches, spirograph, pogo sticks, Cor! comic, football and laughter. In fact, I was out of short trousers and on my way to college when Barry Chuckle became famous – so I’ve ‘edited’ the ‘brand’ of Barry Chuckle into a version of my childhood that suits me.
Brands help recreate positive memories
Brands that employ nostalgia marketing appeal to our natural desire for positive memories of the past. They are helping us to re-connect and re-construct our early experiences, creating a context for a positive relationship between the product and the nostalgic experience.
Communication that simply confirms a brand’s longevity (such as Lloyds 250th anniversary commercial featuring the black horse) may do a good branding job, but do little to re-affirm positive connections, or to force re-appraisal of the brand in a different context. With the best will in the world, how could banking ever create positive associations, at any stage of your life? “You remember that shitty treatment you received back in the day? Yeah, that was us then, too”.
A good example of using nostalgia marketing is the Ford Fiesta TV ad starring Keely Hawes. In the commercial Ford takes us back in order to take us forward. The commercial portrays a Britain of Chopper bikes and BMX, bringing us up to date and the ‘all new’ Ford Fiesta. From the colour grade to the music track this commercial uses nostalgia to underpin the brand’s position as Britain’s favourite car for a generation, with a promise that the brand and the nation are ‘moving forward’. It reaches out to a huge target market of a certain age, cataloguing a period of our lives and enabling us to recast the past in a positive way. Almost 2 million views on Youtube suggest that this commercial clicked with its audience.
Established brands can reach back in order to push forward
The Playstation ‘Evolution’ commercial is a beautifully observed film that takes us through several Sony gaming generations, against an ever-changing London skyline. It performs the dual task of engaging an older target market with positive associations of home, family, and friendship, while also giving a younger target market permission to enjoy gaming today (and a demonstration that today’s games are a lot cooler). We enjoy a shared past, an air of continuity and a sense of a positive future. And Sony continues to enable the conversation amongst the Playstation tribe through #playstationmemories.
More brands are exploiting their history with ‘nostalgia marketing’
Nostalgia marketing enables consumers to exploit the desire for positive associations. It’s probably one of the reasons why Thomas Cook re-adopted the ‘Don’t just book it…’ line, as it evokes a previous era when travel companies actually helped you go on holiday. Or why the Co-Op logo re-fresh stayed close to the original, with its local corner-shop associations. We live our lives in a series of repeated activities – like going on holiday or popping to the shop. Thomas Cook sends a thread back over 30 years as the brand encourages us to associate our first holiday experiences (exotic, precious, sexy) with booking a packaged holiday now. Co-Op returns us to a world of community – and encourages us to re-evaluate the significance of neighbourhood in modern society.
Is it possible to exploit ‘nostalgia’ without actually ‘going retro’? The latest Cadbury commercial ‘Mum’s Birthday’ takes place in the modern day, but seems to appeal to a generosity of spirit that belongs to another time. I may be wrong, but if you sent 1000 little girls into 1000 local shops and asked them to try to buy a bar of chocolate with two buttons and a plastic unicorn, I do not believe you would get much success. But Cadbury has the right to do this, because Cadbury has been around all our lives, and can be projected into that scenario of generosity. If ‘a glass and half’ proposition can be re-presented as ‘a glass and a half of good heartedness’, I’m all for it and I hope they continue with the campaign theme. The commercial reminds me of the best McDonald’s commercials, which tell stories of timeless personal and inter-generation relationships. They don’t portray the real world, as it really is for most people, but a world we’d like to remember and a world we long for – punctuated with positive roles for the brand.
What about brands that have not been around for long – how can they use nostalgia when they don’t have a past? I think this is an interesting one – a brand’s credibility is at risk if it tries to appropriate a past it didn’t belong to. One example may be the sports channels, which appropriate the history and the timeless, shared values of football in order to promote their modern coverage. Interestingly, Sky is now old enough to generate its own feelings of nostalgia, the perfect opportunity for Renault sponsorship to re-introduce Thierry Henri with a bit of Va Va Voom.
As the future becomes less predictable, our horizons looking forward become too hard to define and too close for comfort. It’s easier to look backwards and 42M posts on #throwbackthursday highlights this trend – and the opportunity for brands who can help us re-construct our memories for a positive outcome.
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