Should your F&B brand tap into nostalgia marketing?

Should your F&B brand tap into nostalgia marketing?

In January this year, Cadbury released a range of ‘retro’ packaging to celebrate its 200 year anniversary. And Pepsi’s logo redesign last year took us straight back to the 90s – leaning into the power of the past to highlight the brand’s long-standing place in our lives. 

They’re just two of many brands weaving nostalgia into their marketing strategy to evoke memories, create an emotional connection between brand and consumer, build trust – and ultimately, drive sales.

Should you leverage nostalgia to elevate your brand? 

What is nostalgia marketing?

Nostalgia marketing is a strategy that involves connecting consumers to concepts from past decades. Whether through product lines, packaging or logos, by associating your brand with things that consumers already know and love you can build trust – and that translates into purchases of your new product releases. 

Why is it effective?

Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, studies the subconscious mind of the consumer. He claims that a staggering 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious. 

In other words, they’re governed by emotions – not logical or rational thinking. This explains why, after a bad day, it’s hard to resist eating junk food when the original plan had been to whip up a healthy meal with fresh ingredients. 

Our emotions are hijacking our rational and informed choices. 

When we see retro packaging we can be reminded of happy memories, simpler times, and also perhaps times when food felt less complicated, without so much conflicting information out there to confuse us about whether our food choices were healthy…or not. And then despite wanting to do what’s best for our bodies or our wallets, we can end up making purchases in pursuit of the happiness and pleasure that these memories evoke. 

Research shows that reflecting on good times in the past can also reduce anxiety and loneliness; so as well as giving us a quick hit of positive emotions, it also makes us feel better overall. 

Nostalgia was originally believed to be a neurological disease by the Swiss doctor who coined the term in 1688. He blamed soldiers’ medical problems on their longing to go home and resulting melancholy. 

Unconvinced by this negative representation of what he felt to be a positive and affirming emotion, a psychology professor at Southampton University conducted research which proved that nostalgia, despite having bittersweet effects, can counteract boredom and loneliness.

Another factor in the efficacy of nostalgia marketing is that it plays on the familiar. Research has indicated that we feel more positively about something that we’ve encountered several times, compared to something brand new – a phenomenon that behavioural psychologists call the Mere Exposure effect. 

Perhaps you used to buy Pepsi, but switched to Coca-cola. Then you saw Pepsi’s new logo last year, which is a take on their retro branding with a modern twist, and it took you back to the 90’s when you’d buy Pepsi as an optimistic, carefree student. Pepsi suddenly feels like that cosy jumper that you should probably throw away – but it’s just so reassuring and familiar that you can’t bring yourself to let it go. 

And this brings us neatly to another benefit of nostalgia marketing: it can help you to reclaim your brand equity with customers who have switched to competitors. 

We all buy some F&B products that we don’t feel a strong attachment to. We might just buy the product with the biggest discount on the day, or we’ve got into the habit of picking a particular brand off the shelf. But with a bit of nostalgia marketing, brands can build loyalty back into their awareness campaigns – reminding customers that this brand is the one they love. 

Should your brand adopt a nostalgia marketing strategy?

Maybe. Or maybe not. 

First, you need to have a reason for adopting this strategy. Don’t do it just because everyone else is – make sure it’s a logical step for your brand at this moment in time. For example, relaunching an old product or celebrating a company milestone can be great opportunities to maximise feelings of nostalgia, and seamlessly weave the power of memory into a marketing campaign. 

And as with all marketing strategies, it’s essential to consider your target audience. Evoking nostalgia will only work if you are tapping into the right past experiences for your particular customers. Will they understand what you’re trying to do? Will they like it? Will they care? 

To make the most of nostalgia as an opportunity to connect (or reconnect) with consumers, it’s essential to pay attention to the smallest details. You can’t pair nostalgic graphics with a contemporary font and expect consumers not to notice, and if you’re relying on a legacy product that was much-loved by consumers in the past, you’ve got to be careful not to disappoint them.

Consider this: Are you marketing a nostalgic product, or using nostalgia to market something completely new? 

This is an important distinction to make. It’s not that either approach is wrong – but they’re two very different strategies. One involves reintroducing a product or service from the past, while the other involves using memories of that nostalgic product to create positive feelings about something that’s actually completely different. 

For example, UK dairy delivery brand Milk & More have reintroduced milk delivery in glass bottles. A few decades ago, the sound of the milkman driving down the street early in the morning in his electric milk float was part of daily life in the UK; the sound of clinking bottles was the backing track to morning routines. The brand’s marketing has tapped into that memory to sell its present-day service – and for the target demographic, it’s working. 

US-based healthy soda brand Olipop Soda, on the other hand, is selling something different. Instead of recreating the high-sugar drinks of the past, it’s leveraging the positive feelings its customers have towards days gone by; embracing a retro soda shop vibe in its branding, and using that as a starting point to communicate its product benefits: sodas that are low in sugar and good for the gut. 

Both of these companies have connected their brand stories with the past. They’re doing it in very different ways – but they’re both using nostalgia to connect with consumers and create a sense of warmth, familiarity, and meaning. 

Emotions impact our purchasing decisions, and nostalgia marketing is an effective route to build trust and connection. But it’s not to be used without a clear strategy behind it: if you want your customers to understand why you’re tapping into the past, you’ve got to be clear on that from the start. 

Register now to attend InFlavour 2024 happening from October 1-3 at Riyadh Front Exhibition and Conference Center (RFECC).

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