Why are Indian brands transporting consumers to older times with their campaigns?
Why are brands tapping into old memories? Experts share why nostalgia marketing sells
As more and more brands take us down memory lane with nostalgic elements in their ads, experts tell us why the strategy...

Why are Indian brands transporting consumers to older times with their campaigns?

As more and more brands take us down memory lane with nostalgic elements in their ads, experts tell us why the strategy...
  • The pandemic has sparked a flurry of nostalgia ads and we are all for this trend.
  • Indian brands are capitalizing on nostalgia and memories to connect with their consumers and remind them of simpler times.
  • From Cadbury and CRED to Dunzo, brands are reviving what is old into new in their marketing campaigns.
  • We speak to creative folks from the advertising industry to find out why nostalgia works and how should brands go about it.
It is summer and the clock strikes 11:30. You are late for school because you end up catching Tom and Jerry on TV. You have seen this episode, but you don’t want to move because you are curious to find out whether Jerry will fool Tom yet again. You are sipping on Rasana, there’s a light breeze from your 4-feet-tall cooler that makes a buzzing sound and your grandfather is yelling at you to turn off the TV as he relishes mangoes and reminds you that your school bus might arrive any minute. Cartoon Network’s Tom and Jerry pauses, a commercial takes over and a jingle plays in the background, “Kuch khaas hai hum sabhi mein” as you tie your shoelace and run to catch the bus. You might not have lived the exact memory, but I am sure it brings a smile to your face, from ear to ear and takes you back to the days when you were not constantly anxious about catching a deadly virus or losing your loved ones to it.

Revisiting these old, simpler days has found a space in marketing yet again. Due to the pandemic, from CRED and Swiggy Instamart to Cadbury, brands are trying to evoke nostalgia to connect with consumers on an emotional level and reach out to the inner child in us that lived in a happier universe. Consumers have also found comfort in these ads in uncertain times. “Remember those old times when…” itself is a great hook that sparks interest and marketers are well aware of this tactic.

Last month, Cabdury’s remake of its ‘Kuch Khaas hai’ ad from the 90s took the internet by storm. Social media was abuzz with conversations on gender equality and nostalgia. Then came Swiggy’s campaign that gave a twist to 5 Star’s Ramesh and Suresh and Colgate’s Kya Aapke Toothpaste mein namak hai ads and took us down the memory lane again. Pizza Hut brought back Anuradha Menon aka Lola Kutty of 90s fame and CRED’s ‘The OG’ ad with old cricketers made a lot of noise too.

Debashish Ghosh, National Creative Director, 22feet Tribal Worldwide explained why nostalgia sells. He said, “Nostalgia is comfort food. It feels good and fond memories are linked to it. There is a deeper emotional glue. It's sticky. So it sells. A great example is one of the longest-running social media trend #throwbackthursday. Brands tap into it to help the audience remember their best memories from the past. Be it personal, popular or stuff of legend. Like famous moments, celebrities, old fads & trends. And once they give it a new spin, they make a unique connection with that memory. It adds immensely to their brand metric and helps them foray into culture.”

A recent study exploring the effects of COVID-19 on entertainment industry and consumer behaviour revealed that more than half of today's consumers are finding comfort in old TV shows, films, and songs from their youth due to the pandemic.

“Nostalgia is a time machine. An experience we don’t have access to in the present. It transports us to a time we want to live again,” said Parixit Bhattacharya, CCO, TBWA\India.

Adding why nostalgia works magically for brands, he said, “Brands with a shared sense of history with the people they serve can reference nostalgia and rekindle the love. Of course, it works only when the audience is old enough to feel nostalgic about something. We now have two generations of people in the country who grew up with a few household brands over the years and have witnessed a massive change in the country. So these brands can dip into the deep well of shared memories to rekindle the love. While there are really no rules to this, a sense of shared history is crucial to land a potent connection. Nostalgia can lead to almost involuntary action; a bullet through the crevices of our past hitting a sweet spot for people and the brand. Therein lies the lure of Nostalgia. It is so potent it can actually inform the product strategy in some categories, not just stories in communication.

On the other hand, Pinaki Bhattacharya, Chief Strategy Officer, Wunderman Thompson India believes that most of these ads were trying to make a timely statement.

“Generally speaking, a throwback or referencing something popular from the past and setting it in a surprisingly different or new context can be an interesting device in storytelling. Of course, only if done right. Some brands have tried doing it in different ways recently- some very successfully while some were middling. Barring a couple, I don’t think most of the brands were trying to only evoke nostalgia- they did it, to either make a timely statement using a very memorable ad (say, CDM) or to find a quirky way to drive home their proposition (say, Dunzo). The bottomline is that brands don’t do this to just evoke memories from the past and make its consumers feel good- it has been used to meet the brand’s objectives in the current market and designed to be relevant and attractive for its current consumers,” said he.

By invoking nostalgia around iconic ads, Swiggy Instamart managed to connect with both millennials and GenZ. Telling us more about Swiggy Instamart’s recreation of iconic ads, Ashish Lingamneni, Head of Brand at Swiggy said, “With the latest Instamart campaign, we partnered with our creative agency at Lowe Lintas who came up with a fresh concept to recreate iconic ads with a Swiggy Instamart twist. In our campaign, we pay homage to some of the most iconic ads of our times but depict a world where the product suddenly isn't available after all that build-up and Instamart comes to the rescue of the protagonist with instant delivery. Within a few weeks, these TVCs have become widely popular among viewers owing to their fun, cheeky and relatable nature."

So, what’s the psychology behind nostalgia and which kinds of brands can adopt this unique kind of marketing strategy? Varun Duggirala - content creator, podcaster, entrepreneur and personal development pundit answered, “Products that have been universally present for a more extended period as a category or brand find it much easier to tap into nostalgia. Add to that a historical connection with pop culture ( music, movies, fashion, etc.) or an iconic piece of creative advertising around the brand, and it becomes all the easier. For newer product categories, especially tech, etc., it's more challenging to capitalise, but as we've seen with throwback phone models coming up, even many mainstream tech product categories have been around long enough to capitalise.”

When it comes to nostalgia marketing, some brands go retro to transport you into a world that had a completely different style while some prefer paying homage to a historic event. Indian brands have also used nostalgia marketing to reminisce over an old, lost product -- for example Rola-Cola. It was relaunched after customers begged the brand to return the candies to the shelves.

However, in their attempt of contemporizing an old ad or memory, brands often fail to retain the ad’s essence or they fail to give it a modern twist as per the current environment. When rolling out revived campaigns that might have worked wonderfully in the past, it is important to check that its values align with today’s audiences, both culturally and socially. Sometimes, even the most recalled ad can spark controversy and a brand should completely steer clear over many sexist ads that should remain in the 90s.

So, if you’re considering the nostalgia route to gain traction with customers, Duggirala has some tips you should think about. He shared, “Any creative should first have a deep connection with two aspects, firstly- what is the cultural norm at this moment of time ( what do consumers believe in as core values and what is par for course in terms of discourse or dialogue) and what do consumers today believe in vs what they did in the time from the past. Secondly - it's essential to understand if the emotional core of the original resonates as strongly at this moment for a broader audience and their perception of the brand and its category at this moment. These two are the most essential guardrails to look at.”

Ghosh also advised brands to find the brand connect and keep it simple. Sharing a list of things brands should keep in mind, he said, “Know your customer persona. Tap into your brand history if any. Find an interesting old concept but one that is not overexposed. Don’t belabour the connection. Make sure that the piece fits your brand and not the other way around. Keep it simple. Pick a single aspect of the old memory and let the audience relive it thoroughly. Keep the brand connect simple as well – a feeling, a benefit.”