Nostalgia Is Good, Change Is Better

Bowling alleys and roller rinks are hot spots again, and even drive-in restaurants and movie theaters have made something of a comeback. Retro is the new trendsetter, as witnessed by the return of Converse All Stars, the Dodge Challenger, Pac-Man, Parcheesi, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Old Spice. In a previous entry, my colleague mentioned Cheerios cereal with retro packaging, and PepsiCo’s Pepsi Throwback, sold with the original graphics and formula.

So what exactly defines a “retro” brand? It’s a product or brand that had a successful run, goes away for a while, and then jars the consumer’s memory when it’s resurrected. Each subsequent generation finds something to rediscover from prior generations, and the cycle continues.

As millions of Boomers with trillions of dollars in spending power increasingly long for the “good old days” of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s – and get better at communicating via social media – the nostalgia craze is likely to grow. They’re approaching or entering their retirement years, and marketers are well aware that these retro brands tap into the desire of mature adults to recapture some of their youth as well as their memories of happier, simpler, less stressful times.



But as a Boomer, I can tell you those times were hardly simple, sometimes happier and rarely less stressful. Personally, I wear my Adidas Samoas because they have a timeless design, not because they remind me of my days at Northwestern Lehigh High School.

Bottom line: I don’t think we Boomers are as nostalgic as people think we are.

We like change. A recent study conducted by AARP and the Kantar Group suggested that, as a target audience, we’re a lot less loyal than previously thought, particularly when it comes to specific product brands. The researchers surveyed 35,000 consumers over age 42. When the results were in, they yielded some surprises:

  • 78% switch TV brands regularly
  • 76% were willing to switch computer brands
  • 73% switch clothing brands
  • 70% often change brands when buying home appliances

If anything, it appears that what this demographic most appreciates is a new take on an iconic brand: a refresh of the Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Beetle and Fiat 500 rather than simple reissues; Converse’s Chuck Taylors printed with street-artist graphics instead of the original selection of three or four basic colors; the rebrand of the Old Spice TV commercial, which features a wacky sailor blowing through the door. We’ll buy a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon when we see college kids drinking it, and thank our stars for Sierra Nevada.

So what’s the lesson for marketers? If you’re going to revive a brand, consider the aspects of its heritage that will connect with older consumers, then create a bond with them by keeping the basic look, name, formula or other links with the past. Second, create a real and meaningful dialogue with this target audience, many of whom currently believe that most messages are aimed at someone younger. Third, make it fresh; add a new twist. And finally, remember just how much Boomers like change. It’s no longer a given that they’ll stick with your product, even if they’ve been loyal to it from an early age.

This doesn’t mean that Boomers are anti-retro by any means, or that we reject the use of nostalgia as a way to connect. It’s merely an observation from the Boomer perspective: Improvement (or reinvention) is as important as habit in influencing the brands we choose. After all, some brands from our past died for a reason.

I’m willing to let Hai Karate go. How about you?


5 comments about "Nostalgia Is Good, Change Is Better ".
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  1. Brent Green from Brent Green & Associates, Inc., October 27, 2011 at 12:09 p.m.

    As I am writing this comment, I'm wearing a pair of Levi's, a brand that I began wearing in 1965 (and, no, not the same pair of jeans). I'm sipping a Starbucks latte, a brand I began embracing in 1987. Soon I'll fire up my Jeep Cherokee to head to a client meeting, another brand relationship that began two cars ago in 1982. I'm looking for a new car and am narrowing my choices to either Grand Cherokee or Liberty -- but also maybe a Honda CR-V. One thing that's retro about Boomers is our propensity for change, to try new brands, to experiment. Out with the old, in with the new. That's not new. We've killed many poorly conceived or superficial brands along the way, such as Hai Karate. That's a function of the brand more than the market (bad design, superficial identity, lack of ongoing innovation). Before leaving for my appointment, I won’t be adding Brylcreem to my hair or splashing on some Jovan Musk. Those brands won’t be in my future, either, no matter what those marketers conceive in retro-tuned advertising. However, I will brush my teeth with Colgate and put on a black Eddie Bauer wool sweater. It kind of all depends, doesn’t it?

  2. Joanne Rusch from Multi Edge Media, October 27, 2011 at 12:38 p.m.

    Greg, from one Boomer to another, EXCELLENT take! When will the spin doctors ever learn?

    One other thought. I actually think brand loyalty across the board started to crumble when the foreign car makers came and conquered. Driving a Toyota and buying Kenmore never seemed to go hand in hand after that...

  3. Rhonda Campbell from NA, October 27, 2011 at 1:37 p.m.

    Enjoyed your article. Reading it brought back memories (smile). I think people of all ages who are engaged in life enjoy change as it represents a continual moving forward. I still use Crest, but I like their cinnamon flavored brand, one they didn't have when I was a kid growing up.



  4. Jim Gilmartin from Coming of Age, October 28, 2011 at 3:44 p.m.

    Good article and insights. Brent Green is also on target. I’d add the need for marketers to connect with boomers and older customers by perhaps getting their attention through a nostalgic approach and following up with a message that connects with the target populations lifestage values and motivators. Should nostalgia get their attention, showing them that you relate to and understand their values will drive your message home.

  5. Lynne Spreen from Spreen and Associates, October 31, 2011 at 9:58 a.m.

    Speaking as a Boomer, you are right in every point you make, esp. that we change, we like UPDATED references to the past, and we perceive that we are being ignored in favor of a younger demographic. Good job.

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