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.
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.
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.
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.
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.