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Brands do the Time Warp (Again)

Posted by Barry Silverstein on May 25, 2011 01:00 PM

Walk into a Target store any time through June 10 and you might think you got caught in the spin cycle of a time machine. That's because you'll find the venerable Procter & Gamble brands Tide, Bounce and Downy available on Target's shelves in limited edition retro packaging. 

"Surprising guests with vintage packaging speaks to Target's goal of keeping the weekly shopping trip fun and fresh," says Amy Cantu, a spokesperson for Target.

"We've seen Target's guests embrace similar efforts for cereal products, and we're excited to bring these additional items to market at a time when retro is trendy." Sarah Pasquinucci, External Relations Manager, P&G Fabric Care adds, "This program showcases the nostalgia that our iconic brands evoke, and also engages the Target shopper on the journey our innovation has taken since the brands' early years."

P&G's Tide brand takes retro a step further, encouraging consumers to "express your vintage style" by wearing vintage clothes and buying Tide vintage t-shirts, the profits for which go to families affected by natural disasters. It's a subtle reminder that Tide has longevity in a market where laundry detergents may come and go but one stands the test of time.

P&G, which is augmenting the limited-edition retro packaging with coupons, knows better than just about anyone what consumers are looking for, and these days, they're looking for a return to that simple, uncomplicated, comfortable feeling often associated with no-frill, value-based products of the past.

In some cases, products (and packaging) parents remember from their own childhoods reinforces that feeling. Hostess, for example, reintroduced "Twinkie the Kid" and "King Ding Dong," animated characters that appeared in the '70s and '80s, to pitch its snack cakes in early 2011. Amy Clark, director of snack marketing for Hostess, told the Wall Street Journal, "Today's moms are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and '70s packaging is what they remember." Clark said the company was looking to parents who "want to pass it down, share it with their own kids."

The retrobranding trend is particularly strong when consumers are facing challenging times. "Many marketers are bringing back the brands of yesterday with the hope that they will tap into peoples' desire for simpler, happier, less stressful times," writes Allison Cenna, senior strategist at DDB Chicago, in her paper, Everything Old Is New Again. Cenna adds, "What's old has street cred that a faddish upstart can't replicate."

That's why, writes Sarah Nassauer in the Wall Street Journal, "Procter & Gamble Co., General Mills Inc., Hostess Brands Inc. and PepsiCo Inc. are pulling old package designs out of their archives for brands like Tide, Cheerios and Doritos and bringing them back to store shelves. Smaller companies and start-ups are using fonts, colors or designs that evoke the past on their labels."

Part of the reason, writes Nassauer, is the need for brand name products to remind consumers who increasingly are choosing store brands "which brand came first," but it's also an acknowledgment that retro represents the good old days.

And retro is not just about nostalgia and tipping a hat to a brand's heritage — it's good business, as there's a halo effect on sales. Amy Wirtanen, senior director of marketing for PepsiCo Beverages America, told the Journal that Pepsi's vintage packaging from the '70s and '80s, reintroduced in 2009, pushed people to purchase more of the retro product than other Pepsi products and other carbonated drinks. She said, "We are getting new customers."

Shortly after, PepsiCo came out with retro packaging for its Doritos brand of tortilla chips, which the revived taco flavor succeeding enough to become a permanent item. Retro isn't just limited to the food aisles, either, as HP proved when it recently pitched its notebook computers in retro-style.

So wonder no more about all of those brands that look like throwbacks (in fact, Pepsi's revived retro cola drink is called Pepsi Throwback) to a bygone era — marketers haven't run out of creativity, they just know that when it comes to moving ahead, retro can sell.

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