Turning the clock back…

The smell of freshly mown grass, the fragrance that lingers in the musty back rows of a library, the dusty scent of a long forgotten suitcase, the taste of raw mango spiked with salt and chilli; know what they all have in common? They all trigger memories of a time we have long left behind. We long for it, almost wistfully! Nostalgia – The emotion we can all ascribe to, the one link to our past that we dare not let go and the thread that, when pulled at, unravels a thousand others.

I, for one, often fall hook, line, and sinker for any advertisement, song or even a visual that tugs at my heartstrings. Suddenly, I realise that in fact my memories have been stirred and I feel like I am being transported back to the time when I first acquainted with that particular stimulus. More often than not, the memories are of a simpler time, of easy laughters and shared dinners without the looming spectre of the internet. This ad in particular always reminds of a time when Dairy Milk was not only the greatest reward, but it was also the best way to celebrate a win! The way she just dances onto the cricket pitch with careless abandon is heartwarming!


Due to this precise psychological impact, nostalgia is a concept that has been extensively explored in advertising. Along with the power of recall, what goes on in our mind is a process called selective retention which implies that, you more accurately remember messages that are closer to your interests, values and beliefs, than those that are in contrast. This helps in narrowing the flow of information so that you remember only what is important.

Brands use nostalgia to evoke particular feelings of positive memories from the previous decades in order to generate associative thoughts as elucidated earlier. Having combed through my memory, given here are just a few examples of ads that perfectly induce the feeling of nostalgia.

Paper Boat


Anyone who knows anything about advertising knows that one of the most famous case studies in Marketing is that of Paper Boat. If there is one brand that has successfully used the concept of nostalgia, it is Paper Boat. A range of non-carbonated beverages, it is manufactured by Hector Beverages, Bangalore. The beverages bank on the ethnic roots of Indian drinks and sell comfort tastes such as Jaljeera, Aamras and Aam-Panna. If you have noticed, Paper Boat uses a simple mix of childhood, innocence and its place in the life of a grown up to get its message across. While the drinks themselves are made to taste like the real deal, i.e. traditional Indian beverages; the paper based packs are a refreshing change from the plastic bottles and tin cans. What works in the favor of Paper Boat is however, something much bigger than packaging or taste. It is the reminder of simpler times best identified with memories such as School, thelas, spiced berries and raw mango slices.

There is nothing more enticing than the feeling like you have turned back the wheel of time! Once that is achieved you are likely to feel like making a purchase solely to relive the memories.”




Picture a rainy day, some solitude, a book in hand and suddenly you get hunger pangs! What is the first thing that comes to your mind? Maggi and hot chai, right? That is what eating a pack of Maggi aims to achieve, that is the emotion it wants to connect to. Experts say that brands usually resort to the nostalgia approach in marketing when they want to reinforce a positive image or when they want to re-assert their value proposition. Maggi did this very effectively! After being banned in July 2015, Maggi lost almost 80% of the market share and was slated to be taken off shelves in India unless the parent company Nestle, agreed to mend its ways. Even when it was not allowed to be sold; Maggi continued to reassert its presence by floating videos on social media and television with the #WeMissYouToo campaign. One such ad can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63FXWBVqjuo. Most of the #WeMissYouToo campaign ads featured the main Target Group of Maggi – The single Indian male.

“Why this worked is anybody’s guess! It kept the brand on the top of mind recall even if it was being sold by introducing very relatable stories and characters such as the college student, the single husband, and the busy working male.”

By putting their memories with Maggi as the central theme of each story, the ads went on to create associative thoughts of nostalgia and happier memories than the rush and mess of their current lives.

Google India
maxresdefault (3)While Maggi and Paper Boat struck a chord with the younger age group of audience; Google tried to appeal to the older age group by creating a 6 – minuter titled “ The Hero – A Bollywood Story”. It dealt with the intrinsic role of Bollywood in creating aspirations and also dousing them. You can see it for yourself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYqEpuifLI8&t=255s.

In my opinion,  the underlying theme in the ad film was that it tried to highlight the aspect of how the older generation missed out on achieving their dreams as they did not have access to technology”

So many times, we try to explain technology to our parents and that results in some hilarious anecdotes. However, instead of resorting to humor of the situation, the ad tries to reveal the warmth of this encounter.

By highlighting the father-son dynamic and changing role of the son towards his father; it worked on two levels:

  • For the youth; it fostered a positive dynamic by showing how the son wanted to help his father cope with reality instead of rebelling without a cause.

  • For the older generations; it brought back memories of dreaminess of their youth, something that they lost along the way.



Dollar Impact Glance

Although not an ad aired in India; McDonald’s touched upon the emotion of ‘Simpler Childhood Times’ when it showcased the goodness of its Chicken McNuggets being made from whole chicken meat and nothing else! Although the concept was slightly beyond those that ordinarily employ nostalgia; McDonald’s did this by juxtaposing the father’s simple childhood with the more complicated childhood of his daughter.
For a fast food brand to bank on goodness and nutrition was in fact a big gamble. However, McDonald’s accomplished this by portraying eating at McDonald’s as a family activity rather than a hasty meal. Through the use of ‘Time after Time’ as the soundtrack, it struck a chord among the viewers by replacing the memories of a technologically driven childhood of today’s kids with memories of simpler times. The final message of the advert is that Chicken McNuggets have still retained their simple, pure, and uncomplicated taste. This prompted the viewers to associate childhood and McDonald’s as a ritual, thus combining the best of both worlds.  

Freia Chocolates


A chocolate brand from Norway, Freia Chocolates, employs the tagline, “Et lite stykke Norge” which loosely translates to ‘A little piece of Norway’. The marketing communication of this brand too, is centered around nostalgia. One such ad, stands out for its simplicity and clear message.

The ad opens with the protagonist who is living the high life in New York as a fashion stylist and the feeling of alienation to which the piece of Freia Chocolates acts as a catalyst. He impulsively hops on a plane to see his father immediately after. The ad closes with him opening a styling salon in what is presumably his hometown.



I personally feel that it successfully juxtaposed the alienation, that is a byproduct of the American lifestyle, to warmth and familiarity that is usually associated with European countries.

The ad works on many levels, but mainly it fosters the feeling of ‘belonging’ for those who stay far from their motherland like expats, Non-resident immigrants or even families who have moved away from each other.

Why Nostalgia Works:

The above examples illustrate how different aspects of nostalgia have all been used in one way or the other to get the audience to reminisce about a simpler and easier time.

“Nostalgia works best when the audience has a bank of positive memories that they associate with. Thus, it may work better when your target audience is of the age group 30 and above.”

The association of a product with positive recall is more likely to trigger a purchase or be on the top of mind recall when the audience is at the point of purchase.

The Bottom Line:

“No memory arrives alone and no memory is limited to one sensory perception alone. Hence, our memories are often complete sensory experiences that include the sense of touch, smell, sight, sound, and sometimes even taste.”

In a film that deals exclusively with the myriad and wonderful ways of storytelling, Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’; the concept of nostalgia is an underlying factor in almost every frame. Be it the protagonist thinking of his childhood, explaining to the journalist about his hometown, recounting a lost love – memories and longing is evident. The final scene in the film concludes it the best. Pi, the protagonist asks the reporter “So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?” the reporter replies “The one with the tiger; that’s a better story” to which Pi Patel peacefully responds, “ Thank you, and so it goes with God”. And so it will… We may never understand the pull of memories and its repercussions, but what remains is their irreplaceable role in our lives towards creating happiness, if only momentary.



Amruta Ghate is a Communications Post Graduate with a keen interest in writing and poetry. As a Digital Content Writer at Setu Advertising, she brings to the table, creative content that succeeds in conditioning and engaging the readers, that translates into content amplification.


“On an average, five times as many people read the headline, as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

 -David Ogilvy

Yes, we just took the most cliched route to start a conversation about the most important aspect of any advertising communication –  the headline. But then, when the master has himself said something that has been followed religiously (we would all like to think so) by every single copywriter in the industry – across the world – why not just stick to it, at least to set the context.

Okay, so we’re going to talk about headlines (no surprises there). But because enough has already been written about how to write a ‘good one’ by people who have shaped advertising, we’ll do something different here. We’ll take a look at the journey of a headline, from then till now. Why? Well, it’s simple. While the motive of a headline or the task assigned to it has remained the same (it should sell), everything around it has changed drastically.

“The changing scenarios have had an extensive impact on headlines, and the art (more of a process) of writing them.”

No, we’re not yet talking about the evolving cultures. That’s just too vast and complex. For now, we’re sticking to a relatively smaller area of a transformed advertising ecosystem. From evolving media to the available space and from baffling (either too big or too small) budgets to declining attention spans, everything has undergone a colossal change in the past few decades. So, while every word from David Ogilvy’s statement holds true even today, the changing scenarios have had an extensive impact on headlines, and the art (more of a process) of writing them. Let us see and understand how headlines have evolved over the years.


Rolls Royce

This ad by David Ogilvy for Rolls Royce in 1957 is legendary. With the amount of body copy in it, one might confuse it with an advertorial. But this was the trend back then – ads that were copy-rich. Now ignore the body copy (It’s hard to do so, but still). Just look at the headline. It’s a really long headline, but manages to get the reader hooked to the ad. And this is just one of the ads that Rolls Royce did back then, as a part of the campaign, where most of the captions were really long. It’s interesting to understand the reasons why such long captions worked back then.

“The headline used to be entirely different from the campaign line. In fact, many headlines were used to reinforce the campaign line.”

  1. Lesser advertising – In the 50s and 60s, there were fewer brands across different sectors in the market, which meant lesser clutter and ads, for the buyer/reader to look at.
  2. Print medium as the first point of contact – While television had started entering homes, newspapers led the way in communication. The medium itself supported this form of writing because of the available space.
  3. Lesser visuals – As compared to today’s day and age, access to a ready visual library was weak, because of lack of technology, which meant more scope and space for writing.

The biggest takeaway from this is the fact that the headline is entirely different from the campaign line.

While this was the scenario in the US and the West, Indian advertising was still in its nascent stages. As a result, Indian print ads rarely witnessed this ‘phase’ of headlines.

THE 80s AND 90s SHOW

By now, television had well and truly taken over print as the primary medium of communication (The Bold and the Beautiful, Nukkad and Circus were a part of people’s conversations). At the same time, brands from certain segments continued to reach out to the audience through print ads. All this had an impact on the nature and style of headlines. What stood out was:

  1. Crisp headlines – The advent of “less is more” philosophy impacted both – the headlines and their length.
  2. Bigger images – From a copy-centric ad layout, the visuals and words started sharing equal space. The visuals became more dominating. A copy-driven ad with a classic headline became a special occasion feature.
  3. The punchline had arrived – It was observed that the campaign line inadvertently became the headline for the ad. Gone were the days of different headlines leading to one brand line. The punchline started calling the shots.
  4. Headlines became emotional – Instead of focusing on direct product benefits, a more emotional packaging emerged through the headlines.

Inspired by Neil French’s work in Singapore, like this ad for ibid.com, even Indian advertisers took a more daring approach to writing headlines. But, this was restricted to a niche, urban audience.

The dominant advertising, and hence the headlines, became more emotional and crisp. More importantly, the focus had already shifted to the television sets, where headlines were heard, not read.



“In the age of 140 characters, the headlines for print advertising have been through a lot (both literally and figuratively).”

Over the past decade, the world has been taken over by the power of internet that has connected everyone, everywhere. This has led to more and more brands reaching out to more and more people. Print continues to lose its importance – at least in an advertising sense – as brands find out newer ways to connect with the audience (It is used more as a tool to complete the promise of a 360-degree media plan). While television is dominant, the internet and its different tools now offer more profitable advertising platforms. In the age of 140 characters, the headlines for print advertising have been through a lot (both literally and figuratively).

  1. Lesser space – As many brands jostle for space across media, the available space has reduced significantly; and the length of the headline.
  2. An over-burdened audience – As social media takes over the lives of the people, they are left over-burdened by the content being circulated around. At times, this has even led to print ads being devoid of a headline.
  3. Reading, a dying habit – As visuals capture the mind space and films become easily executable and accessible, reading as a habit, is on a decline.
  4. The hashtag phenomenon – Conversations now subscribe to brevity with hashtags and emoticons taking over words and sentences.

“The journey of a headline subtly captures the evolving cultures that we’ve all been part of, over the years.”



If you look at it, this journey of a headline subtly captures the evolving cultures that we’ve all been part of, over the years. It shows how our tastes have changed, habits have evolved, and even the preferences have undergone a sea-change.

But the one thing that remains constant is that the headline is still 80 cents of a dollar. A good one does a lot of good for the brand. And a great one; well we all know what it has done to us, so many times.

Amey Pendse
Amey Pendse is an engineer by qualification and a copywriter – not a writer – by profession. He likes to keep it simple – in ideas, and in writing. He essentially thinks and writes in Hindi and English and has a keen interest in writing radio ads and TVCs. With 6 years of experience, Amey is a Senior Copywriter at Setu.