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OPINION9 April 2010

Looking forward at going backwards

We know that nostalgia sells: adverts harking back to the ‘good old days’ are part of the fabric of many brand strategies. This vague notion of ‘the past’ is mined over and over in order to establish a connection with the consumer.

We know that nostalgia sells: adverts harking back to the ‘good old days’ are part of the fabric of many brand strategies. This vague notion of ‘the past’ is mined over and over in order to establish a connection with the consumer. What’s more, the revival of entire ad campaigns – Smash, Mars and Tango in recent years – has taken nostalgia into the realm of meta-use.

Taking things a step further, the more recent trend for the resurrection of ‘retired’ products – Wispa, Original Monster Munch – feels much more ‘now’. The use of social networking and guerrilla advertising has injected a freshness that continual replays of tired (though classic) ads could not achieve. Consumers feel they have taken an active role in reinstating these childhood classics – they have a voice. And it has been listened to.

It’s not only the realm of junk food that is capitalising on this extreme nostalgia for the last decades of the 20th century. ‘Retro gaming’ and the re-release of consoles and games from 20 years ago is also growing in popularity. With the vast improvements in technology and playability, this form of nostalgia cannot be explained away with claims that products were ‘better back then’.

This nostalgia for product-revival appears to be driven by the 20-somethings generation – to which I belong. In times like these, just as we’re granted the freedom to take on the world by ourselves, things are starting to look less rosy and suddenly our childhood is starting to look pretty ace once more. Nostalgia appears to be the perfect antidote to dealing with the here and now just as we’re getting old enough to properly remember ‘the past’. By reliving our childhood memories, we are able to revel in nostalgia’s strongest attribute – the ability to rouse the feeling of belonging and the power to unite through the past.

Current teens can appreciate these product-revivals as ‘retro’ in the same way that we can embrace shoulder pads and leggings – we genuinely were too young to remember the first time round. But time marches on and before we know it, the 14 year olds of today will be looking back fondly at the ‘good old days’. Or will they? If nostalgia is a coping mechanism which looks back to better times, then will today’s teens really want to be going forwards looking backwards?

I believe they will. Although the ongoing trend for sci-fi and alternate realities could hint at a future where it is preferable to look forwards, or sideways. Nostalgia as a human condition is certainly nothing new, though now at least we recognise it as a power for good rather than a debilitating medical condition. And human nature is something that is hard to ignore, for the consumer and ad planner alike. What’s more, who knows what’s ahead – the Noughties could well turn out to be the best decade of the century!

In any case, whether the future is rosy or not, I don’t think it would be fair to rob the current youth generation of their human right to nostalgia in the future. And for that reason I believe it would now be useful to utilise my metaphorical crystal ball to give ad planners a helping hand at predicting the nostalgia trends in the years to come:

Topping the list are those future dinosaurs of technology: ‘books’ and ‘computers’ are already making way for e-readers and tablets so I’m looking forward to the ‘book revival’ circa 2025.

Next, the obsessions that at present seem oh so ‘on trend’ – ‘sleb culture’ and the idolisation of cultural icons – should be due a revival in 2032. So start stockpiling those soon to be iconic copies of Heat and OK! now.

Finally (hopefully) going green will be so ingrained in our psyche that we’ll see an ironic, but short lived, re-visit to the times when recycling solely meant separating out your paper and plastics.

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