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Aspirational Consumers Turn Nostalgic

Miriam Quart
  • While there are several ways to define a nostalgic brand, the best barometer is the inherent value in the name.
  • Men have become a relevant target for nostalgia marketing.

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.

Infusium23 is a primary example of the nostalgia concept. As an 86 year-old hair care product line that’s been passed down for generations, Infusium23 continues to have a cult following.

However, like most nostalgic brands, Infusium23 fell out of touch with consumers with the absence of marketing and advertising for several years. Madison Avenue Consortium took on the task of reviving the brand with a new, modern, campaign that introduces the brand to new users who are looking for a premium product without the salon price, under the tag line “Better than ever hair days.” In 2011, Infusium23 is expected to draw in new ingredient-conscious consumers with a new “Color Defender” line that features a sulfate-free formula.

St. Ives is another nostalgic beauty brand that is grabbing the attention of young women with an ingredient story. Millennials grew up with St. Ives in their home. But throughout the years, this generation has been exposed to multiple product offerings from Aveeno, Healing Garden and Dove—along with the many lines from Bath & Body Works. As a result, St. Ives had fallen off the consumer radar screen. Today, St. Ives is hoping to re-connect with younger consumers who are interested in natural product ingredients and value—“with a flirty twist,” the focus of the brand’s new campaign.

Another “good ole” brand has gotten very creative by leveraging its own legacy. Prell shampoo recently launched a new ad campaign featuring Alexa Ray Joel, the daughter of the brand’s 1980s’ spokesperson, Christie Brinkley. This effort strategically re-connects the brand with the daughters of the Christie Brinkley generation. Female millennials (ages 18–29) today have strong friendships with their mothers, and often share products and longtime favorite brands. And it doesn’t hurt that Alexa inherited her mother’s locks.

But what if you marry a nostalgic celebrity with a nostalgic brand the way La-Z-Boy recently did? The new La-Z-Boy campaign highlighting sofas (not just recliners) features Brooke Shields, the model-entertainer that many consumers grew up watching. While marketing a recliner brand may seem antiquated, Shields surprises viewers of the TV spots by reminiscing about the brand as her dad’s favorite chair, which is symbolic for stability, comfort and family values. This marketing effort exemplifies the notion of “back to basics” with dad as the man of the house.

Men: The Right Target

Men have become a relevant target for nostalgia marketing. The recent Pert Plus marketing campaign focused on dad as hero to present him as a pivotal player in the household. Creating a campaign for the 2-in-1 pioneer brand was a challenge in a category chock full of product lines for every hair type. The campaign leverages the already loyal follower, men, and positioned the brand for the whole family … a simple, effective hair brand to “Get hair that’s all Plus without the fuss with Pert Plus.” [More on this effort is available in Case Study: Reviving Personal Care Brands, both online and in the March 2011 issue of GCI magazine.]

Levi’s jeans is yet another example of a nostalgic men’s brand that has surfaced after a short marketing hiatus. With its “Go Forth” campaign, the Levi’s name gets back to its brand essence as a working man’s jean that is re-building America in the declining economy. By leveraging the heritage of its brand, Levi’s jeans is smartly looking to connect with today’s consumers who can remember what the brand represented in their homes and neighborhood. While the brand tried its hand in the fashion jeans segment, the Levi’s jeans are now distributed at Walmart, making them more believable and authentic in talking to the workers of the new American economic drives.

Fitting a New Outlook

According to a Dec. 23, 2010, feature in The New York Times, many forecasters and policy makers, due to rising consumer confidence, have expressed renewed optimism that the economic recovery will gain substantial momentum in 2011. However, marketers know consumer purchasing habits do not change overnight. Consumers will continue to seek out back-to-basics brands that fit their new outlook in the current economy. Keep your eyes peeled for a continued nostalgic theme in brands and campaigns that take consumers back to those feel good days and re-connect with consumers like an old friend.

Miriam Quart is president and founder of Madison Avenue Consortium, a virtual advertising and marketing agency that specializes in creating customized marketing communications and advertising campaigns. She has more than 15 years of executive experience working with beauty, consumer electronics, airline, financial services and cable television brands. The agency’s virtual model is designed to offer quality results with quicker turnaround at lower cost than the traditional agency model.;; 1-347-489-7449.

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