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Aspirational Consumers Turn Nostalgic

By: Miriam Quart
Posted: April 7, 2011, from the April 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

Marketers used to be able to bank on “aspirational” consumers indulging in affordable luxuries such as a $500 purse or a $28 shampoo, but there has been a dramatic shift in consumer behavior during the recent economic downturn. Today, consumers are less optimistic; more uneasy about the future, they are scaling back and reverting to basics. In fact, more often than not, they’re avoiding top-shelf items and looking for brands that are familiar and comfortable.

Marketers have caught on, and instead of introducing new SKUs, have decided to dust off “orphan” brands in hopes of reviving them to reconnect with lapsed users. It seems that nostalgia is a powerful sales tool, and today, is playing a prominent role in bringing back tried-and-true brands.

Nostalgic brands are like comfort foods—familiar in name, they conjure up memories of the “good ole days.” The concept of nostalgia is popping up across several categories, from beauty (Infusium23, Pert Plus and Sure) to snack foods (Little Debbie) to TV shows (Hawaii–Five-0 and The Electric Company). The tactic of using nostalgia to revive brands seems intuitive, given the research that shows today’s consumers are looking for back-to-basics brands that are affordable, and fit their lifestyle of traditional family values.

Defining a Nostalgic Brand

So, how do you define a nostalgic brand? While there are several ways to define a nostalgic brand, the best barometer is the inherent value in the name. Brand names that conjure up positive memories typically have the best success rate in winning over a new wave of consumers.