Brands retrograde to reassure, comfort

Anxiety and nostalgia go hand in hand—when times are tough, it’s only natural to seek comfort in memories of what seems like a simpler era. So brands are “retrograding”: Casting back to their branding from bygone years to evoke a sense of comfort that’s as reassuring as the fact that Dad always had a job waiting for him on Monday morning.

New Zealand soft drink brand L&P is running an ongoing series of commercials voiced by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame. Equal parts wit and nostalgia, this ad walks Kiwis through a classic childhood summer before reminding them that “You were there, and so was L&P.” YouTube’s comments section reads like a collective reflective sigh.

Heinz in the U.K. has brought back one of the best-known slogans in advertising: 1967’s “Beanz Meanz Heinz.” The campaign, launched in February, includes a spot consisting of a montage of classic Heinz Baked Beans commercials, voiced over (as was traditional) by a boy reading a poem.

In the U.S., General Mills’ Trix and Cocoa Puffs cereals now feature retro designs on their packaging. As Adweek’s Barbara Lippert notes, Trix the Rabbit and Coo Coo Bird loom larger than life in our memories. And with every square inch of modern cereal boxes designed to snap, crackle and pop, these boxes stand out against the more garish competition.

The trick with retrograding is that, as the L&P ad boasts, your brand actually had to be there back in the day. And if it aint broke, don’t fix it: Tropicana’s retro redesign is a disaster, as Lippert points out, observing that it “evokes the generic products of the 1970s, but in a fake way, drained of all meaning, like a ghost package.”

3 Responses to “Brands retrograde to reassure, comfort”

  • Weetbix was another that reverted to packaging from a past era which lead me to a warm milk and weetbix morning routine rivival.
    How do you see this trend working across the non-food/beverage category?

  • Agree that reconnecting with their roots can be a great way for brands that have ‘lost their identity’ as such to re-engage a flailing and now frugal customer base.

    Could be good advice for underperforming American car brands which seem to be relevant to um….. Well no-one in this part of the world that doesn’t drive a taxi.

    What did motoring mean to the average man? What does the world look like if there was never a model T? Would we all still be relying on real horsepower? Or does everyone now have Schwarzenegger style calf muscles..?

    Probably not the solution to all their problems but perhaps a bit of retrospective naval gazing could be a good place to start…..

  • Retrograding, I believe, is particularly applicable to the food and beverage category, largely because food and comfort are so synonymous they turned it into a phrase.

    There’s also an opportunity for retrograding to expand rapidly into the wider FMCG category. For example, detergents, washing powders and personal care products immediately come to mind–playing on the notion of soft, simple pleasures.

    Longer-term, I think we can reasonably expect to see anti hyper-consumerism sentiment in the next couple of years. Heritage (as opposed to nostalgia) would well suited to address this mind-set.

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