Nostalgia Unleashed: How Brands Harness Memories To Create Immersive Experiences

In a tete-a-tete with Everything Experiential, Ashwini Deshpande, Director, Elephant Design discusses how nostalgia sculpts consumer preferences in experiential marketing, employing cultural memories, the examples of building a new brand such as Paper Boat and relaunching the timeless Jawa Motorcycles on the nostalgia factor and more


In the realm of marketing, the power of nostalgia stands as a formidable force, capable of weaving intricate emotional connections between brands and consumers. Digging into the concept of experiential marketing, where engagement transcends mere transaction, this exploration unravels the profound impact of nostalgia-driven experiences. Nostalgia acts as a potent catalyst, tapping into cherished memories, and evoking a spectrum of emotions ranging from joy to longing.

By strategically infusing elements of the past into present-day marketing campaigns, brands harness the ability to resonate deeply with their target audience. From retro-themed pop-ups to throwback advertisements, these immersive experiences not only captivate attention but also foster enduring brand loyalty. This narrative delves into the psychology behind nostalgia, uncovering how it serves as a bridge between past, present, and future, fostering meaningful connections that endure the test of time.

In a tete-a-tete with Everything Experiential, Ashwini Deshpande, Director, Elephant Design discussed how nostalgia sculpts consumer preferences in experiential marketing, employing cultural memories, the examples of building a new brand such as Paper Boat and relaunching the timeless Jawa Motorcycles on the nostalgia factor and more.

Shaping Consumer Preferences

Trends that shape preferences are circular and make a comeback every few years. However, Deshpande emphasises that nostalgia as a concept is much deeper. “You cannot base a campaign on nostalgia if your product/ service and brand have no potential to align with the promise of good old days.”

Somewhere in 2012, a young startup discussed launching ethnic beverages with Elephant Design. The brand as would be obvious is Paper Boat. “We named it so - to evoke the happy memories from childhood when life was non-transactional, and happiness surrounded us. The idea was to reach the limbic imprint through familiar flavours and tastes from childhood and bring happiness back to strengthen the belief that life is still good,” she reveals.

Recognising the constraints of startup budgets and distribution, Elephant Design identified the brand's name as its prime storytelling opportunity. Inspired by Sudarshan Faakir's heart-touching gazal, "Wo kagaz ki kashti, who baarish ka paani…" (those paper boats... those rains), sung by Jagjit Singh, they found resonance for their brand ethos. Undoubtedly, 'Paper Boat' encapsulates the nostalgia of childhood, where simple paper boats carried dreams across puddles. Each of us recalls our cherished paper boat moments, whether crafted from colourful paper or old newspapers. The launch of 'Paper Boat Drinks and Memories' aimed to rekindle these dream-filled moments.

But, Deshpande feels that concepts like nostalgia need a deep commitment and thoughtfully curated 360-degree experience creations. Beyond packaging, Paper Boat’s design ethos extended to various touchpoints, illustrated by two notable instances. Firstly, a delivery van reminiscent of traditional baraf ka gola carts, adorned with vibrant bottles under a canopy and a large metal bell. Secondly, inspired by childhood memories, the team of Elephant Design crafted tree-inspired air-space displays for grocery stores. These displays featured hanging dispensers with easily accessible Paper Boat packs, evoking the joy of picking fruit from a tree. Thousands of these creative dispensers were installed at grocery shops nationwide, fostering engaging customer experiences.

“I suppose Paper Boat opened the doors of nostalgia for brands to delve into. Very few succeeded. For others, it just remained a tactical campaign,” she brings out.

In 2018, Jawa, the iconic motorcycle brand originating from Prague in the 1920s, was resurrected in a modern rendition. Classic Legends, the team behind the revival, partnered with Elephant Design to craft a contemporary classic retail experience. Emphasising authenticity, the store revolved around the narrative of a Jawa Story, manifested in a cosy Book Café atmosphere.

Deshpande points out that for Jawa, they recreated an experiential brand through retail touchpoints. The store boasted a minimalist design, with the rugged Jawa Door Handle serving as the initial point of engagement. Independent zones catered to retro-modern bikers, featuring prominently displayed Jawa motorcycles for tactile exploration. The Book Café corner invited customers to browse curated 70s paperbacks amidst a community table conducive to casual biker interactions.

Additional elements included a conversational Jawa Life chalkboard, an authentic Legends' wall adorned with posters of revered Jawa heroes, and a display of Jawa side panel colour variants. A merchandise counter with a branded backdrop offered accessories and facilitated personalised consultations. The ‘Gear Up Your Ride’ zone showcased Jawa biking gear alongside vintage advertisements, evoking a nostalgic ambience.

She adds, “It was inspired by the nostalgia of slow drives through the mountains, sipping a coffee and looking back at the journey. The story was that of building authenticity and reaching out to how it was ‘back then’ seemed the right space for the kind of audience the brand wanted to reach.”

No Nostalgia!

Elephant Design was also the firm behind the relaunch of the brand, Campa Cola which was brought back by Reliance Consumer Products last year. However, when questioned about it, Deshpande states this is a brand which could not make a mark with its heritage. She reveals that the Campa launch had built an anticipation of nostalgia. “However, we chose to build the brand afresh for a new audience that had no exposure to the Campa of the 70s. It was not possible to achieve any continuity as the brand had stayed dormant and not evolved with the times.”

Deshpande points this out as an example of how every legacy brand cannot be built on nostalgia and just because it existed some years ago does not make it eligible for evoking yesteryears.

Drawing From Cultural Memories, Influencing Behaviour, Balancing Authenticity

Needless to say, nostalgia-driven experiences in marketing tap into collective cultural memories, and also influence consumer behaviour.

Deshpande underlines that some concepts are universal. “Like the purity of mother’s love for her baby, or a shared mischief from childhood. They cross the boundaries of culture, region or language. They have the potential to grow and sustain. Any experience based on such universal appeal can create a shift in communities and their decision making.”

When it is about balancing authenticity with nostalgia in creating experiential marketing in a way that it resonates with diverse consumer demographics, and also about nostalgia-driven experiential marketing helping in influencing consumer perceptions of product quality and value, it is again, a matter of universal appeal, stresses Deshpande. “If consumers buy into the brand promise of nostalgia, they could be more liberal towards the brand and would be flexible and accommodating even if the brand takes time to fulfil the ultimate expectation,” she comprehends.

As experiential marketing continues to evolve, leveraging nostalgia will remain a timeless strategy, to create unforgettable brand experiences that stand the test of time.

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