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Recently, Rasna launched a new influencer-led campaign where mothers can be seen preparing and enjoying new as well as original flavours of Rasna. But curiously enough, the background music is taken from Rasna’s Doordarshan-era ads:

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A post shared by Surbhi | Indian Mom Blogger (@surbhi.dhall)

The choice of using old music can be read as an attempt to evoke nostalgia while subtly hinting toward a multi-decadal brand legacy.

Nostalgia - a word made from nóstos meaning ‘homecoming’, and álgos meaning despair is often associated with a bittersweet feeling one gets upon revisiting memories of a time gone by. Nostalgia is a strong emotion observed both in real and reel life. What does this feeling translate to when employed in branded content? Let’s find out.

String tricks, paper planes, Phantom sweet cigarettes, chit games..these are the motifs seen in Paper Boat’s ‘Jab Bachche They’:

The song-like almost all of the communication by Paper Boat is rooted in childhood nostalgia. Paper Boat as a brand markets natural flavours and Indian flavours of juice as the taste of one’s childhood. Their juices are a sensory visit into the past. Therefore, the song is in accordance with the brand’s overall messaging. Nostalgia in Paper Boat’s song is an ode to childhood and to simpler times. Incidentally, the ode is also open-ended and indeterminate period-wise meaning multiple generations are likely to see their childhood reflected in the song. It is for those adults who have grown up and are likely caught up in the vicious circle of work. A re-visit to things still beautiful is a reminder that life is still beautiful. Hence, nostalgia as observed in the song is an access point to the beauty imbibed in life.

Also, reminding one of childhood is this short film by Milk Bikis:

Beginning with the visual of a tricycle, the short film doesn’t miss a beat in getting to the point. It delves into the vivacious joys of childhood friendships as it plays out between two young boys both inside and outside the classroom. Along with thick-rimmed spectacles, glass cookie jars, and ladybugs - half a piece of a Milk Bikis biscuit is also part of the imagery that evokes nostalgia. The piece, in fact, is what guides one of the friends down the path of discovering lost connections. Hence, nostalgia has a quality of traversing time.

Nostalgia is mostly associated with childhood and so far we have seen examples of the same. But it is not limited to just that. It can and does extend to almost any cherished part of one’s life. This is observed in the marketing of Saregama’s Carvaan Audio Player:

Marketing aside, Carvaan Audio Player as a product itself is built on layers of nostalgia as it involves yesteryear’s famous voices (Ameen Sayani) and references to an immensely popular radio show called Geetmala. It precedes childhood-based nostalgia by a decade or two. The target audiences for the same are those who grew up with Geetmala in its heydays of the 70s, currently in their 40s to 60s. This is considerably older than usual marketing TG of all brands in India 20s-40s, keeping in mind India’s demographics and the catch them young principle.  The pain enshrined in nostalgia, for the older folks is sharper because the feeling of loss for times gone by or spent together is deeper. While one’s childhood days can still be revisited in one’s youth or middle age- the vision becomes distant when one is a senior citizen. The latter has but few ways to reach back to the lost friends.

Hence, nostalgia in Carvaan’s film translates to a painful loss that can embody a deceased spouse, a friend or blurry memories of yore. It is a method to preserve and honour memories via shared songs.

Approaches to Nostalgia

Two approaches can be noted in the examples that we saw today. The first one as seen in Rasna and Milk Bikis- includes the brand itself in the iconography of nostalgia. This is advertising-based nostalgia. Yes, it takes audiences back to a particular period complete with markers from that era but it also subtly positions one’s own brand or product as an icon of that era. The half piece of a Milk Bikis biscuit or the song ‘I love you’ Rasna is as much a part of one’s childhood as classroom games or paper planes.

The second approach as seen in films by Paper Boat and Saregama Carvaan tilts more towards their product and brand. Nostalgia is emotion is the foundation on which their product and brand are built.  It’s not just one story and one ad campaign. While the visual representation of nostalgia is independent of the brand, the product ultimately is a gateway into the said nostalgia. Arguably, this is a wider approach since it includes consumers regardless of the fact whether they were a part of the brand before. It is also very well-suited to new brands/products that might lack a legacy but can promise a sensory revisit into the past, case in point nature-based drinks or songs from the golden era.

Nostalgia - a peculiar yet powerful tool

That the power of nostalgia is immense has already been established. More examples of the same can frequently be observed in communication from Cadbury (the recent remake of ‘Kuch Khaas Hai) or in the formation of ventures like The 90s store. But the fact that nostalgia is so well-received is almost peculiar when we consider the pleasure-oriented ideology that capitalism and consumerism represent. Basically, the goal of consumerism is to bring pleasure via material objects or services. Objects are marketed in the problem-solution binary with the promise that once we buy the object, all our problems get automatically solved and the world is back to being a pleasurable soiree.

Chronologically, consumerism is rooted either in the present or in the future, that is things are at their best here and now or soon will be in the time to come.

Nostalgia defies both of the above tenets of marketing culture - it approaches pleasure that is tinted with pain and loss. Instead of looking forward, it revisits the past. Yet, the human aspiration to hold dear even the most transient of past experiences ensures that nostalgia works wonderfully as a marketing currency. It perhaps is also closer to reality which is never built solely on pleasure but is a mix of both pain and pleasure. That closeness to reality over a utopia built on the pleasure of instant gratification may well explain how nostalgia can be an effective marketing currency.