Nostalgia in Branding

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Nostalgia in Branding

Three of the most-iconic brand logos are Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Nike. Two brands that have used nostalgia in rebranding are KFC and Kodak. Three top brands that have undertaken nostalgia, rebranding, marketing campaigns are Microsoft, Fisher-Price, and Hostess.

Impact of Nostalgia in Branding

  • As the authors of a research study about the impacts of nostalgia in branding stated, "[n]ostalgia can serve as a signal of having attained ample social connectedness [which] can shift people’s motivations such that prioritizing and keeping control over money becomes less pressing." In fact, the social connectedness that nostalgia generates makes people feel less lonely, less sad, and warmer when it's cold out.
  • Nostalgia has been credited with "increas[ing] generosity and tolerance to strangers -- and that leaves us open to brand messaging."
  • Nostalgia fosters feelings of trust, comfort, and security in consumers. When brands tap into those three feelings, "consumers . . . have more confidence in your brand."
  • When brands tap into nostalgia, it connects them with consumers emotionally. According to research from Forrester, "emotion is the biggest driver of loyalty across many industries."
  • Nostalgia is a strong force in branding because it associates a brand with things that people love, which signals to consumers that the brand is worth paying attention to.
  • As a result of the sentimental feelings that nostalgic branding generates, consumers are more willing to pay.
  • When a brand is able to connect emotionally with a consumer, that consumer is more likely to visit/shop the brand, be less sensitive to pricing, heed the brand's advice, pay attention to the brand's communications, and recommend the brand. Furthermore, Harvard Business Review said that brands who connect emotionally with consumers "will not only see a huge payoff in growth and profitability, but in brand awareness and loyalty."
  • Research findings from the University of Southampton determined that nostalgia produces positive emotions, reduces boredom, decreases loneliness, and makes people feel less anxious.
  • People perceive marketing that taps into nostalgia as authentic, which is a huge win for brands.

1. Impact of Nostalgia in Branding For Younger Consumers

  • Though the underlying premise of nostalgia is to connect people with happy memories from the past, nostalgia has also proved a powerful tool in branding to younger consumers, despite the fact they are largely unaware of a brand's past.
  • A key reason why nostalgia is a successful way to brand for younger consumers is that they care a lot about culture. They "want to know there’s an authentic backstory to your brand that allows them to determine how credible you are." Thus, younger consumers don't just care about the product; they also care about a brand's story.
  • The following is an example given by a creative advertiser who focuses on younger consumers: "Brands want to say, ‘We’re still that same company with humble roots,’ so [they] reverse-engineer that value to an audience that may not be privy to a backstory."

2. Consumer Statistics

  • In addition to providing qualitative insights about the impact of nostalgia in branding, we also wanted to provide quantitative insights to show just how impactful nostalgia can be in branding.

A. Survey by the7stars & YouGov

  • A survey of consumers in Britain found that 90% of people "think[] fondly about the past at least occasionally" and 47% do the same either quite often or almost always.
  • The survey also found that if time travel was possible, 55% of people said they "would choose to return to the past" and just 28% picked the future.

B. Survey by Ask Your Target Market

  • A survey by Ask Your Target Market polled 1,000 consumers and found that 62% of them had bought an item for the specific reason of nostalgia.
  • The survey also found that 63% of people believed that nostalgic ads "can be effective."
  • Additionally, 80% of those surveyed responded "that they are more likely to trust brands that have been around for a long time."
  • The survey also asked the participants how recently they had made a nostalgic purchase and the results were as follows: Past day (5%); Past week (10%); Past month (15%); Previous three months (12%); Past year (16%); Over a year ago (13%); and Never (30%).
  • Among the consumers who had purchased something nostalgic, 56% bought home items, 54% purchased entertainment products, 50% purchased food products, 45% purchased fashion items, and 28% purchased tech products.
  • Over half (56%) of those surveyed responded that "they are at least somewhat likely to make nostalgic purchases within the next year."

Most-Iconic Logos & Their Impacts on the Brain

1. Coca-Cola

  • Coca-Cola's logo is one of the most-iconic logos of all time, as a study found that the logo is recognized by 94% of people worldwide.
  • The background of the logo is a vibrant red and the company name is written in a cursive-like, white-colored text.
  • Some ways the logo impacts the brain are that the use of red as a color simulates appetites and communicates energy, power, passion, and excitement. Additionally, "[s]tudies have also shown the color red can trigger impulse buys."
  • Like red, the use of the color white in the logo also evokes passion. White also catches people's eyes easily due to its vibrancy.
  • A survey found that consumers rated Coca-Cola's logo as the best logo and said that they perceive it as bright, classic, and vintage.

2. McDonald's

  • The McDonald's logo is one of the most-iconic logos of all time, as numerous sources expressly stated so.
  • McDonald's has two variations of its logo. The first features a red background with the famous Golden Arches in yellow. The second just features the iconic Golden Arches in Yellow with a no-color background.
  • The use of red as a color in the logo "is stimulating and is associated with being active. It also increases heart rate, which helps to jumpstart your appetite."
  • The use of yellow as a color in the logo "is associated with happiness and is the most visible color in daylight, so that’s why a McDonald’s logo is so easy to spot on a crowded road."
  • A key way the McDonald's logo impacts the brain is that "[t]he brain processes color before it processes words or shapes" which is why McDonald's chose yellow and red for its logo colors because they make people hungry, encourage people to buy things, and generate feelings of happiness.
  • Since McDonald's uses "a signature color" (yellow) in its logo, the logo is perceived as both recognizable and consistent by consumers. In fact, an 80% increase in brand recognition can occur when "a signature color" is used in a logo.

3. Nike

  • The Nike Swoosh is one of the most-iconic logos of all time, as numerous sources expressly stated so.
  • An interesting fun fact about this logo is that a student studying graphic design made the Swoosh logo for Nike in its early days for a fee of just $35.
  • Nike uses a few different versions of its logo, though the Swoosh symbol is the same on all.
  • The classic logo is black and white. Sometimes the Swoosh is white and the background is black. Other times the Swoosh is black and the background is white.
  • Another version of Nike's logo is a tangerine orange background with a white Swoosh.
  • The other main version of Nike's logo is a red background with a white Swoosh and the "NIKE" name in bolded, white letters sitting atop the Swoosh.
  • The iconic Swoosh that Nike uses in its logo conveys a sense of movement, through its "combination of curves ending in a sharp point."
  • The movement message inherent in Nike's logo coincides with its "Just Do It" slogan, which has an implicit message of seeking instant gratification.
  • A source provided an excellent description of how Nike's logo impacts the brain in stating the following: "[T]he theory is that if we see the swoosh and that phrase enough during the day when we go to purchase new shoes or new sportswear the swoosh and 'Just do it' will enter our heads and we will then be more inclined to purchase Nike products."
  • The audience reception of Nike's logo is that it's a symbol of winning, courage, fitness, determination, victory, teamwork, power, honor, and athleticism.

Case Studies: Brands That Used Nostalgia in Rebranding

  • Two brands that have used nostalgia in rebranding are KFC and Kodak.

1. KFC

  • Fast food chain KFC has heavily used nostalgia in its rebranding efforts and has succeeded in doing so.
  • The following title of a Forbes article illustrates that success: "How KFC Became A 'Finger Lickin' Good' Success Story Again."

A. The Challenges

  • After decades of challenges, including being surpassed by Chick-fil-A as the top U.S. chicken chain, KFC hired Kevin Hochman, an expert in "rejuvenating old brands," as its Chief Marketing Officer (he is now KFC USA President).
  • Hochman decided to use nostalgia in rebranding KFC by using Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC, as the chief character. The reintroduction of the Colonel Sanders persona into KFC’s advertising happened nearly "30 years after Sanders himself passed away."
  • However, when Colonel Sanders passed away, KFC’s decline began because KFC strayed "from its core values."
  • Hochman’s nostalgic rebranding strategy involved "reclaim[ing] the brand cues that the Colonel established: the red striped bucket, the secret recipe, the phrase ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ . . . [and the persona of] the Colonel himself, that irrepressible image of the Southern gentleman and proponent of good homestyle American cooking."

B. The Actors

  • For the debut of the Colonel Sanders nostalgic rebranding, the first actor to play the role of Colonel Sanders was a former comedian from Saturday Night Live, Darrell Hammond.
  • The results were impressive, as the rebranding launch generated "tremendous buzz."
  • Despite the success, the advertising agency behind the nostalgia rebranding campaign suggested that a new actor play the role of Colonel Sanders.
  • Hochman was shocked by the suggestion. As he later recounted, "I thought they are crazy. I have an ad that’s catching on, we have traction, and they suggest a new actor."
  • However, the logic behind the suggestion was that featuring "a squad of colonels will create conversations on social media and will keep people interested." Furthermore, that bold approach "was totally in character with the zany salesmanship of Sanders himself, who would do anything to promote his chain and sell chicken."
  • An important part of the nostalgic ads featuring the Colonel is that he is never made fun of.
  • Within the first 30 months of launching the Colonel Sanders rebranding campaign, 10 different actors played the role of Colonel Sanders, in keeping with the ad agency’s suggestion to do so.
  • Each person selected to play the role of the Colonel "has to fit a particular idea, or promotion, or menu item."

C. Success Metrics

  • The Forbes article very effectively summarized Kevin Hochman’s success with nostalgia rebranding for KFC and how he achieved that success in stating the following: "Kevin did something that’s very tough to do in the generic restaurant sector — he rebuilt and elevated a brand. This was done by going back and by rediscovering proven brand equities, respecting them, and, most importantly, with differentiating advertising that goes beyond mundane food shots that so many restaurants retreat to."
  • After the initial relaunch of Colonel Sanders in KFC ads, the reaction was approximately 80% positive.
  • Furthermore, after the initial relaunch of Colonel Sanders in KFC ads, approximately 20% of people said they hate the ads. Though that sounds like a negative thing for KFC, Yum Brands CEO (the parent company of KFC), said it was actually a win for KFC in stating "I am actually quite happy that 20% hate it, because now they at least have an opinion" which actually makes it easier to market to those people since it's known where they stand.

2. Kodak

  • Kodak is a brand that has recently used nostalgia for rebranding.

A. The Challenges

  • Kodak sought to rebrand itself as "a cool youth brand" and thus follow in the rebranding footsteps of Polaroid and Fujifilm.
  • To that end, the Chief Branding Officer of Kodak stated: "I have this ambition to return Kodak to being one of the world’s best-known, best-loved brands."
  • Though its industrial printing has been keeping Kodak afloat, that work isn’t making it a cool brand, which is what the company now wants to be known as.

B. The Clothing Collection

  • To rebrand itself as cool, Kodak partnered with clothing brand Forever 21 in September 2018 to create a collection of 26 clothing items featuring "Kodak logos and color schemes from the ’90s."
  • The clothing items also featured "design elements from the company’s old NASCAR team, making them simultaneously a callback to a time when Kodak was wealthy and beloved, and a tie-in to a moment where streetwear-chasing kids are heavily into logos" such as NASCAR.
  • In marketing the Kodak/Forever 21 collection, nearly all of it was done through "unpaid Instagram promotion and organic influencer relationships."
  • The campaign's visuals were on-par with Kodak's disposable-camera essence, as that vintage-photo look was used to convey the company's new image.

C. Success Metrics

  • To promote Kodak & Forever 21's clothing-line debut, "five photographic influencers were given the collection, Kodak film and an instant print camera to shoot their own campaign." The campaign's reach was valued at $5.8 million.
  • The Chief Branding Office of Kodak commented on the success of the company’s strides into fashion in stating: "[Fashion] took our brand to a whole new audience and positioned it as aspirational in a way that perhaps it hadn’t been before."
  • In further regard to success, a September 2019 article said that Kodak "is making the comeback of the century. Reveling in their own retro success, the brand is utilizing its iconic brand identity and moving into retro clothing."

Top Brands That Undertook Nostalgia, Rebranding, Marketing Campaigns

1. Microsoft

  • Microsoft undertook a nostalgia marketing campaign that focused on rebranding its Internet Explorer web browser titled "Child of the 90s."
  • Per our research, this campaign appeared to be the most-frequently-cited nostalgic marketing campaign mentioned in articles, as it was mentioned as a classic example of such in source after source.
  • The message of the campaign was that the Internet Explorer web browser is what people grew up on the internet with and it's back in a new and improved form.
  • Microsoft rolled out the campaign to try to win back people who had become loyal to using the Google and Safari web browsers.
  • The "Child of the 90s" ad featured iconic trends and fads from the 90s, including Hungry Hungry Hippos, Tazos, and Trolls to name a few.
  • "Child of the 90s" was a single-ad campaign, but a highly effective one at that given the tremendous buzz it generated.
  • Microsoft posted the ad on YouTube and, to date, it has over 50.2 million views.
  • Slate even dubbed the ad "the 'definitive 1990s nostalgia video.'"
  • The following is the main tagline used in the ad: "You grew up. So did we. Reconnect with the new Internet Explorer." Another tagline used in the ad was "[o]nly ‘90s kids will understand."

2. Fisher-Price

  • Fisher-Price is a brand that undertook a nostalgia marketing campaign that focused on rebranding titled "Let's Be Kids."
  • Fisher-Price had been experiencing a number of problems and ultimately was failing to resonate "with Millennial parents."
  • The message of the campaign was that Fisher-Price helps kids be kids, as it has been providing them with imaginative ways to play for decades, thereby including people who are now parents and grew up playing with Fisher-Price toys.
  • The campaign included six spots on television, one of which was "an extended clip starring John Goodman."
  • This link is to that extended clip with John Goodman on YouTube. The video was posted on September 20, 2019, and to date, has generated 548,239 views, 794 likes, and 184 dislikes.
  • A tagline used in that extended clip states: "Because here, we can all be kids. And if you don't remember how, don't worry, you'll find your way again."
  • "Let's Be Kids" first aired "during the 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards."
  • The campaign also included pop-up events called "Fisher-Price Let’s Be Kids Pop-Up Playdate" which featured family-friendly activities and "invit[ed] adults to 'take a break from adulting and come play like a kid.'"

3. Hostess

  • Hostess is a brand that undertook a nostalgia marketing campaign that focused on rebranding titled "Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever."

A. Backstory

  • The challenge for Hostess's ad agency, Bernstein-Rein, was to "[r]esurrect[] a brand [Hostess] that had been liquidated and target[] a new audience [Millennials], without alienating the existing loyal customer base — older moms."
  • When Hostess liquidated as a company, consumers were devastated because they'd no longer be able to buy Twinkies and other iconic, Hostess snacks.
  • The campaign's message was that Hostess was on a comeback after its liquidation. The reason that theme was chosen is that "[e]veryone roots for a comeback story."
  • The title of the campaign ("Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever") was chosen because it reflected how Millennials talk and it was unexpected language from a company that had been around for about 100 years.

B. Advertising Approach

  • With just a $3.5 million budget for the campaign, the channels used were mainly "social media and 'out-of-home' nontraditional advertising, such as displaying ads on the side of a 12-story hotel or wrapping a public bus in Twinkie advertising." Street teams were also deployed across the U.S., which stamped people's hands with "#CakeFace", "did street theater performances[,] and hosted yoga mouth exercises in the middle of Times Square."
  • A website was also launched (by the ad agency) called "Prepare Your CakeFace" and encouraged people "to use #CakeFace to share Vine and Instagram videos of themselves stretching their mouths to prepare for that sweet Twinkie." The website was quite successful, as over 4,000 submissions were received through the site in just two days.
  • Shortly before the time of Hostess's relaunch, the ad agency also sent 70 celebrities "VIP packages filled with the first batch of Twinkies" and asked them to post on social about the Twinkies. One of those celebrities was Snoop Dogg and when he posted about the Twinkies on social media, the number of followers on Hostess's Instagram increased by 3,000 in a matter of approximately two minutes. Many other celebrities also participated, including NFL players and talk show hosts.
  • On the same day Twinkies went back on store shelves, the ad agency "sent a Hostess snack truck to deliver the first batch of Twinkies on the set of NBC's 'TODAY' show." Not to be outdone, "ABC's Good Morning America sent a helicopter to capture live shots of Al Roker and the snack truck delivering Hostess goodies in Manhattan."
  • Following its appearances on those morning shows, the truck toured across the U.S. and made appearances at events.

C. Success Metrics

  • Despite a total campaign budget of just $3.5 million, the "Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever" campaign attained a value of "$50 million based on media impressions, including 464 million impressions for the Hostess Brands Twitter account."
  • When Hostess products returned to the shelves in stores, they sold out within two days.
  • After Hostess's re-launch, the company's "product turnover was six times higher than the period before" it liquidated, which translated to a Twinkies-sales-increase of 185% and a Hostess-cupcake-sales increase of 53%.

Research Strategy

For the first part of our research (the impact of nostalgia in branding), we looked for articles with qualitative and quantitative insights about topics such as how nostalgia impacts branding and how nostalgia establishes connections between consumers and brands, among others. We used both industry and media sources for that information, including Promotion1, Ad Age, and Forbes.

The second part of our research was to identify three of the most-iconic brands of all time and provide an analysis about their designs, impacts on consumers, and perceptions among consumers. We identified those brands by first finding lists of the most-iconic brands and then looking to see for which of those there was information about the psychology behind them, as that information was not available for all the top, iconic brands we found. The brands we included in our research were ones that multiple sources concurred are indeed among the most-iconic brands of all-time.

The third part of our research was to provide case studies of brands that have used nostalgia in their rebranding. We looked for that information by reviewing numerous articles that provided examples of brands that have tapped into nostalgia in their rebranding efforts. Information about nostalgic rebranding was much more limited compared to nostalgic branding. However, we focused on rebranding and ultimately identified Kodak and KFC as brands that have used nostalgia in their rebranding. The articles through which we identified those companies were published by Vox, Forbes, and Ad Age.

The final part of our research was to find examples of nostalgia marketing campaigns from top brands that specifically focused on rebranding. To find that information, we reviewed many articles from sources such as Biz Journals and Inc. Here too, information about rebranding was much more limited than it was for branding in general. Nonetheless, the three campaigns we provided all involved rebranding.