• Transform magazine
  • December 12, 2017

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Opinion: Embracing the power of digital nostalgia

Simon Massey.jpg

Sales of vinyl records are soaring and Millennials are out chasing Pokémon, as the past and the future collide, how can brands build a bridge between the digital and physical? Simon Massey, global CEO at the Gild examines this question

Nostalgia has long been a comfort blanket used by brands to capture the hearts of anxious and overwhelmed consumers. As an antidote to the unrelenting demands of our always-on digitally-driven lives, evidence of this ‘analogue revival’ is all around us as consumers turn to the tangible and trusted for reassurance in the wake of significant social and economic pressure.

Increasingly, brands are supporting digital innovation with physical products and vice-versa. For example, Frank Ocean’s much anticipated new album Boys Don’t Cry will be supported by the sale of a printed publication in Apple Stores, as well as exclusively launching on iTunes. While the continued success of Pokémon Go is challenging the myth that too much screen-time means consumers are disconnected from the physical world around them. Analogue is going digital with significant implications for brands.

Nostalgia has long been a key pillar of marketing; from businesses bringing much-loved and discontinued brands such as Cadbury’s Wispa back to life to the revival of original packaging by brands like Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s, major brands have attempted to remind consumers of their youth. Figures from the British Phonographic Industry  reveal that sales of vinyl records rose 62% year-on-year in the first three months of 2016.  The rising sales of adult colouring books and consumers’ continued love affair with the physical and tangible is often viewed as a backlash to the continued encroachment on digital channels into consumers’ lives.

In the current social, political and economic climate, where consumer anxiety is on the rise and uncertainty is rife, it is little surprise that a growing number of brands are turning to nostalgia as a short-cut to connecting with consumers. Certainly a cursory glance at the biggest box-office hits of the past few years confirm the continued rise of the sequel as a key tool for mitigating risk. Indeed, this nostalgic formula can also be applied to Netflix’s stand out hit House of Cards. If algorithms were responsible for new product development you can bet that remakes, reiterations and reissues would be the mainstay of all categories.

However, success in the past is no guarantee of success in the future. The average Millennial may appear almost prematurely nostalgic, but to achieve longevity brands must offer more than a safe space through which they can relive their childhoods. In the social media age, nostalgia is the lens not only through which consumers experienced the past, but how they express themselves in the present, usually through digital channels. This is why digital nostalgia is such a powerful trend for marketers.

As the ascent of Pokémon Go underlines, when you look at the nostalgia trend through a digital lens it is not a backlash against the rapid development of gaming; but instead a vibrant collaboration of past, present and future. A collaboration which provides numerous opportunities for brands. Digital nostalgia doesn’t simply provide an escape from the demands of technology but actively augments and complements it.

The digital nostalgia trend is a timely reminder that the evolution of technology is not linear and digital and analogue products can complement each other. Later this year, the first Internet of Things turntable, Trntbl, will be launched, targeting young record collectors under thirty, allowing them to share the vinyl they are listening to with their network. The real power in digital nostalgia lies not just in standing still, but in providing consumers with an entry point to the new and unknown. Pokémon Go is a wonderfully reassuring introduction to augmented reality and a stark contrast to the failed experiment that was Google Glass.

Just as technology brand Apple used skeuomorphic designs, which ape the look and feel of traditional analogue products to provide both a shorthand to consumers and an underlying reassurance, new digital channels provide the opportunity for brands to build a bridge between the digital and physical. The brands that provide these shortcuts, and seamlessly blend the virtual and digital world’s will succeed in driving meaningful connections with consumers in an increasingly cluttered world.
 

Simon Massey is global CEO of the Gild