The Power of Brand Nostalgia

Retro marketing involves using the past to help sell the present. We increasingly see examples of brands using this approach across numerous categories. Examples range from bringing an old brand back to life, updating a vintage package for a current product, a Throwback product formulation, or simply retro-looking products that have become timeless classics. For those interested in using this approach to connect their brands with modern-day consumers, I’ll provide some tips for successful time travel.

First, successful retro marketing is much more than simply nostalgia for middle-age consumers. It is about creating (or re-creating) a product experience that connects on an emotional level with your audience. It may be the reflection of a set of values, such as a time when life was simpler, or of an era whose perception is better in some way than the present.

For the sake of this blog, let’s focus on the three strategies that are most appropriate for Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) where packaging is key: Anniversaries (Retro), Throwbacks, and Simply Vintage.


Every organizational anniversary is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to increase sales, enhance your brand, and strengthen the relationship with your audience. There is no “right” way to celebrate anniversaries, each brand is unique and each year is different – never to be repeated. But, from a retro marketing perspective, an anniversary can be rewarding since it provides a special marketing communications touch-point between consumers and your brand, separate and incremental to any other seasonal or planned touch-points.

The most successful anniversaries engage consumers, customers, stockholders, employees, communities and other groups who are emotionally connected with your brand. Anniversary themes, campaigns and events should be chosen only after priorities and objectives have been established for all key stakeholders. Combine creative design, advertising, employee & community relations and out-of-the-box public relations, to create a holistic campaign (packaging, print, display, PR, etc.) to gain lasting benefits from your anniversary.

In February 2011, MillerCoors began offering its iconic Coors Banquet beer in four new commemorative cans to celebrate the brand’s 138-year history. Coors Banquet was first made at Coors’ Golden brewery in 1873, before Colorado was even a state, and has been made there ever since. Each of the four can designs showcase a different era of the brand’s history, from 1880 to 1959. The heritage cans were only available for a limited time nationwide through March 31.

“Coors Banquet is one of the great American icons that has stood the test of time,” said Coors Banquet Brand Manager Chuck Buckingham. “… we celebrate and share our past while encouraging new tales involving the timeless western brew.” As part of their campaign, MillerCoors invited consumers to visit its Facebook page, “to share their Coors Banquet stories for the chance to appear on the brand’s site.”* In less than 2 weeks after their initial launch, Coors Banquet had nearly 24,832 people “Liking” this on Facebook: a result any E-Marketer would appreciate!

Building on this past success, Coors has also recently brought back their famous 1936 “stubby” bottle.


A variation on how a retro or vintage approach can help drive your business is a “Throwback” product AND package experience. Two of the most recent noteworthy examples are both from PepsiCo. Not only did they create limited-time, collectible edition packaging for their brand’s biggest fans, but also a retro approach to previous product formulation (utilizing real cane sugar or bringing back a previously discontinued flavor). This holistic, retro-brand experience connects not just with a consumer’s visual memories, but also their taste buds, reminding them of special memories in their past.**

PepsiCo’s two memory-lane beverages, Pepsi and Mountain Dew Throwbacks have 1960s and ’70s inspired look, and a flavor distinct from the current beverages. The Limited Edition Taco-Flavored Doritos.

PepsiCo’s two memory-lane beverages, Pepsi and Mountain Dew Throwbacks have 1960s and ’70s inspired look, and a flavor distinct from the current beverages. The Limited Edition Taco-Flavored Doritos.


As for the recent 2016 Crystal Pepsi redux of 1992? I think it’s going to be a big … oh wait, hold on a second please, I have a call from Wayne & Garth to take on my flip phone …


For many brands, a simply retro or vintage package (still for a limited time) can help regain some lost ground & equity with your consumers. This is still about connecting emotionally with your brand’s audience and timeless authentic values. A powerful retro brand experience can create something of value for loyal fans to rally around.

An example of a greatly successful Simply Vintage approach is General Mills’ cereals. These were sold exclusively through Target, and still return from time to time. When first introduced, the move was supported by Target’s advertising circulars, promotional spaces in stores, and social media outreach featuring retro trivia contests and radio promotions across the country.*** A very smart move during tough economic times by General Mills, redefining comfort food, or at least adding sugar-coated fluorescent cereals to the genre. After all, what’s more comforting than memories of us wearing footie pajamas, eating cereal with our friend the Trix Rabbit, and watching Saturday morning cartoons?

The exclusive Simply Vintage Big G Cereal box (LEFT), compared to current on-shelf packaging.

The key to doing Simply Vintage right, is about combining the old with new. The Trix Rabbit and brandmark are a restrained retro, compared to the overly energized bunny on today’s pack. Yet, these retro packs follow modern day guidelines regarding the portrayal of food, inclusion of nutrition facts, and of course take advantage of modern day printing, all of which still deliver a bright and fun experience. As an added bonus, customers who collected a handful of proofs of purchase received a free retro T-shirt featuring a General Mills’ mascot.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with some principles to help you master successful time travel:

  1. For every retro or vintage success, there are failures. Your retro experience must be true to your brand’s heritage and values. If you create a retro package with no legitimate history, it will fail.
  2. A Throwback product experience is ideal, since it includes both package AND product. If it doesn’t make sense for your brand from a formulation or technology perspective (think Sony Betamax), then a Simply Vintage approach could still be a great alternative.
  3. Don’t overstay your welcome. Retro, Simply Vintage, and even Throwbacks are best leveraged as limited time only, special offerings. This will prompt and encourage immediacy around purchase with your brand audience. If your effort is highly successful, you can always look for other ways to bring it back again or create another new retro campaign.
  4. Combine creative design, advertising, employee and community relations and out-of-the-box public relations to create a holistic campaign (packaging, print, display, PR, etc.) to get lasting benefits from your anniversary or your retro initiative.