The pull of the past

Why nostalgia is always up-to-the-minute

We’re living in times of unprecedented technological change. Just as we adapt to one new technology, another comes along to replace it.

Small wonder, then, that we sometimes hark back to eras that seem simpler and slower. And unsurprisingly, brands are leaping on this hankering for the past too.

This year, Hovis brought back its iconic 1973 advert featuring a baker’s boy pushing a bike up a historic street, digitally remastered and with a re-recorded soundtrack. The re-release works on multiple levels, trading on people’s nostalgia for the 1970s when the ad first aired and for the early 20th century when the ad is set, with its heart-warming cobbled streets and thatched roofs. The ad has long been voted Britain’s favourite.

Nostalgia or fauxstalgia?

But what if your brand doesn’t have the heritage of Hovis? You too can get bitten by the nostalgia bug.

Most of today’s viewers don’t remember the original airing of the ad, let along the era of bakers’ boys on bikes. It’s what a recent article in Entrepreneur by Kate Wolff calls ‘fauxstalgia’: a longing for a past that you didn’t actually experience yourself.

Retro clothing, soundtracks from the 1960s in modern stores, rotary dial telephones and cassette recorders in hipster flea markets – the fauxstalgic consumer trend is everywhere.

It suggests a desire to bridge the generations, connecting children with parents or grandparents and all the love, loyalty and trust that entails. Just the qualities that brands want to inspire and nurture.

Inspired by the past

Another way your brand can borrow from the nostalgic trend is through ‘newstalgia’: when new products are constructed to feel old. Distressed furniture, sepia tinted photos, and faux-vintage Instagram filters are prime examples.

You can also ride the tide of nostalgia by channelling the past. The shops are awash this year with long, floral tea dresses that hark back to summers of old, which we imagine bathed in a gentle glow of sunshine. Newer brands aimed at a younger market are at the forefront of this trend.

Emotional pull

So why is nostalgia so marketable? Essentially, it’s about emotion: the longing for the good old days, the security and comfort we think they entailed, perhaps a less divided society.

Hovis’ current marketing director Jeremy Gibson revealed to Marketing Week that the company’s original brief to creative agency Collet Dickenson Pearce back in 1973 had been simple. Rather than obsessing over sales figures, “it was more about ‘we just want more consumers to love Hovis’.”

Given that research finds that emotional ads work best, it’s not surprising that Hovis’ young cyclist continues to push the brand 46 years on. He tugs on our collective heartstrings in a powerful way.

Past, present, future

Of course, Hovis’ success is not just down to nostalgia. The ad also has a strong story, a great creative concept, a beautiful backdrop and expert crafting – not to mention superb direction.

The ad’s director was Ridley Scott, who went on to direct feature films including the futuristic Alien and Bladerunner. Nobody could accuse him of getting stuck in the past.