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The Set List: Brand Nostalgia

Kodak's new logo, designed by Work Order, is a perfect example of how brands are using nostalgia for the recent past to forge powerful connections with consumers. Image © Eastman Kodak Company

Editor’s note: this blog is the fifth in a series discussing trends and insights into the world around us.

Think back to your childhood and to all the things you ate, drank, and played with. Think Action Man, Twister, Cola Bottles, The Chopper, or the Mini—a collection of memories that sits within your emotional psyche. Even at our most tender ages, we are exposed to the power of brands, and we subconsciously form a connection to them without any awareness of what’s taking place. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, brands solely relied on advertising to garner exposure and to instill a desire, on the part of consumers, to be involved with their products or services. So it’s fair to say that brands have always played a key role early in our childhood and helped shape the memories we made of those indelible early years.

Today, the complexity and channels brands use to capture our heart, mind, and purse strings are far more varied and complex than they were at any point in the 20th century. Brands are constantly seeking to understand an ever changing audience, and this involves more than a fair share of repositioning, redesigning, and restructuring who they are and what they do. Whilst loyalty still exists in consumerism, choice, value, and offer explain why we brand hop and why brands now consistently face the challenge of the two ‘R’s’: relevance and resonance. It’s imperative to deliver the visual attachment through your brand and to understand how it communicates whilst ensuring both product and service creates a need or desire for the end user.

If we map the history and development of brands over the past 20 years, we can see the visual representation of the 2 R’s. From minor visual maintenance, to full rebrands driven by the need to stay ahead (some more successful than others), the shifts in aesthetics or mergers and acquisitions are the result of change and growth. Whilst all brands develop a reason for being through mission, vision, or promise, there’s one simple fundamental that brings success or failure to them all: brand adoption, which is generally understood as the personal reason for a brand’s existence and what it means to the brand of me.

Recently we’ve seen a resurgence of brands looking back to move forward. They seek to press the reset button by tapping into the emotional attachment they once delivered through the pride of their heritage. Consider this an antidote to the noise of the digital age and a constantly switched on lifestyle delivered through the age of analogue.

The new COOP Logo, designed by North.

Take the re-introduction of the coop identity, original designed in 1968 (yes nearly 50 years ago). Both a word mark and a representation of trust, its simplicity and confidence represents a time when brands seemed self-confident, uninterrupted and brave. The reintroduction of this mark is a testament to a company whose diversification over time had diluted the brands visual expression. It’s more importantly understood as the need to go back to its founding beliefs and peel away the years of visual veneer. It also helps reconnect to a time of strength and the affiliations people held dear, not an undo but a redraw and reaffirm.

Kodak is another brand looking to its rich heritage to move forward by bringing new life to the logo it used in the 70’s and 80’s. Driven by reinstating the founders’ original vision back into the brand, the revised mark echoes the visual recognition and impact it had from days past. Recent research carried out by Kodak revealed that 58% of respondents recognised the brand from the outline alone. Who can forget the first time they held a Polariod camera, the instant gratification of capturing a moment there and then? Kodak is a brand that not only carries nostalgia through its identity but creates it through the products it offers.

Apple's designing a bendable smart phone, pictured in the sketch above, that's reminiscent of Motorola's clamsshell phones from the 1990s.

The recent reintroduction of the TSB identity (Trustee Savings Bank) from 18 years ago is back on the high street with earnest. A slight tweak on the original version from 1995 (pre-merger with Lloyds), it still carries the same visual message of honesty and simplicity with a look back to its heritage and positions itself as your ‘local’ bank. With the spotlight on the banking world with regards pay, process and operations, the key to retaining customer loyalty is not only driven through product and service but how those manifest through the brand. In the way that First Direct approaches its communication, the aesthetics of TSB alludes be a challenger brand. Its opportunity will be to build on the emotional connections it once had and to stay true to why it was originally created.

Then there’s the masters of product desire, Apple, looking to introduce a bendable phone—a nod to clamshell phones originally developed by Motorola in the 90’s.

To sum things up, whilst we’re constantly obsessed with the new and the fast paced, as a result of all the change happening in the world and our daily lives, there’s lessons to be learnt for brands. Namely don’t get swept away with the hype. Trends come and go, consumer needs change, products and services will be fashionable and then unfashionable, business management will change. The pace of change can cause brand confusion; it can muddy the waters of your brand existence. Nostalgia creates conversation. It makes us smile. And when we care or have a memory for something, we’re more likely to share it with others. Nostalgia humanizes the way we interact with brands. Are we seeing the volume of brand noise being turned down? That reminds me, I need to charge my Walkman.

Tony Wilks
Tony Wilks joined Gensler in 2003 as a Senior Graphic Designer, and now leads the London brand design group. His passions include brand strategy, identity, environmental graphics, signage, way finding, and contemplating the brilliant work of his predecessors while enjoying a cup of hot coffee at his kitchen table. Contact him at tony_wilks@gensler.com.