Modern branding campaigns develop a nostalgic feeling

Marketers don't need a time machine to understand that the familiar and simpler past connects with consumers.

Marketers don't need a time machine to understand that the familiar and simpler past connects with consumers. In recent years, a drab economy and an often overwhelming hi-tech world have triggered an upswing in successful campaigns that tap into consumer nostalgia. As a result, marketers are now adding engagement tactics to sustain emotional connections with their brands' original consumers.

Over the past year, General Mills experienced double-digit growth for its cereal brands with limited-edition, vintage-inspired packaging at retailer Target, explains David Oehler, associate marketing manager at the food manufacturing giant.

Now in its third year promoting the boxes, meant to trigger nostalgic feelings in middle-aged moms, the brand wants to combine the strategy with a less traditional approach.

"Once we realized the real driver for this is the equity and power of the brand, we were tasked with doing this for the same budget and to increase sales at Target," he says.

Benefits of research
Through research, including a survey, the company identified new packaging options for a consumer poll that will determine the packaging for next year's promotion.

Oehler notes that the measured and expected success from the continuation of this nostalgia marketing may be the result of "a retro craze" and "recessionary tale." However, pre-launch PR, a real differentiator between the first year's slight sales growth and the second year's double-digit increases, inspired the team in its third year to look beyond blogger outreach.

"It was to get them excited and knowledgeable about the past launch and really thinking ahead," he says.

Allyson Hugley, SVP and director of insight and research at MS&L, says consumers are certainly swayed by thoughts of a familiar time when the world seemed less complex and there was an emphasis on quality. However, as with the General Mills effort, she says marketers should still leverage technology and social engagement to tell a story.

"You can't get stuck doing an exact repeat of what was done before," she says. "There still needs to be a slight departure from it."

But, Hugley emphasizes, there is a balance between the message "rooted in assurance" and the use of new technology to communicate that message.

Infusing humor into the mix is an effective way to update and refresh the story through social engagement tools, she explains.

"Brands that do it successfully understand it can't all be about nostalgia," she says. "In some cases, laugh a little about the past."

Butterfinger is doing just that with "Nobody's Gonna Lay A Finger On My Butterfinger!," a campaign that debuted in the early 1990s and featured Bart Simpson.

Strength in "defense"
The company launched a Butterfinger Defense League comprising past TV personalities - Erik Estrada (Ponch from CHiPs), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), and Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia Chase from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) - whose characters had been affiliated with defense talent. Through a video contest, the company will select a consumer with the most votes as its fourth "defender" to appear at Comic-Con International in July. The campaign will culminate with a "surprise ending" in August.

Tactically, the infomercial tone of the instructions on its website reflects retro marketing, and the company is encouraging video and social engagement.

"It's an 82-year-old brand," says Tricia Bowles, PR manager for Nestlé Confections & Snacks. "We're able to tap in to the superheroes known back in the day for that previous generation, which is a big part of our consumer set."

Especially effective for the confectionery category, this strategy goes back to the idea of impulse purchase.

"In order to trigger that flow of events and emotional connection, we have to bring fresh content and engaging opportunities to consumers to become a more important part of their everyday lives," says Bowles.

Referring to the resurgence of iconic superheroes, Hugley says: "All of these entertainment properties we grew up with and have as a source of comfort are experiences we can now share with kids. That connection and shared experience is part of what's driving this trend."

How to cash in on the past
  • Leverage PR and social engagement tools to sustain and build on nostalgia marketing efforts
  • Campaign execution should reflect the retro tone of the overall brand effort and positioning without compromising modern technology promotional tactics
  • Make vintage campaigns relevant to modern times with the addition of elements such as humor or an indirect reference to current negative issues

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