Does Nostalgia work for Parle-G?

24 May,2018


By Prabhakar Mundkur


‘Brands are like people,’ proclaimed Stephen King the father of account planning.  And like people, brands unfortunately grow old too!  Brands periodically try to stave off the effects of aging through marketing and advertising. But old archetypal brands have something magical about them. They appeal to the masses because they are the lowest common denominator and can talk to anyone in any social or income class, irrespective of class, creed or sex. They are the social glue that brings and keeps people together. They are brands that satisfy, typify and unite all the individuals of one large social tribe. A tribe which is united by common interests, beliefs, habits, languages, culture and customs.


But when brands get old, marketers worry. Their first instinct is to figure out how to make the brand younger.  If a brand has become so mass that they are now failing to appeal to a higher income demographic they would like to get them back.  The ‘formula’ solution from ad agencies is to show younger, better-to-do people in the commercial.  And then hope that the brand acts like a mirror where these new targets can see themselves in the brand. Parle-G is one such archetypal brand.  It instantly brings back childhood memories of dunking Parle-G biscuits in chai.  Mind you, chai in a ‘cutting’ glass perhaps, rather than chai in a tea cup tea that comes out of a teapot. With the background at best of a Lucknow skyline rather than a Manhattan skyline.


It is not difficult to see what the client’s brief on the new‘You are my Parle-G’ campaign might have been. After all every brand in the country is chasing millennials – it is the new buzzword in marketing. Of course, India is supposed to have over 400 million millennials. That by any stretch of the imagination is not a segment, it is an entire universe!   And god help all those who are trying to typify such an incredibly large audience.  Because a school teacher’s twenty-two-year-old son in Jhumri Telaiya might hold very different attitudes to life from a IIM professor’s twenty-two-year-old son living in Ahmedabad!


The new campaign has launched with a string of  very nicely made commercials with people reminiscing about their moments with Parle-G in the past.  One couldn’t help feeling that the people portrayed in the commercials somehow seemed more privileged than earlier Parle-G commercials – in fact in one commercial the protagonist was even working overseas. Probably signalling another possible worry about the brand: that as we move up the income chain, usage of Parle-G is likely to drop.  And of course the last worry being that children were glad to have a Parle-G but maybe not the man in his twenties (how I hate to say millennial!).





Nostalgia Marketing

Of course, if reminiscing about your past experience of a brand does anything to prompt its present or even future usage is still a question.  Quite often the problem with old brands is that nostalgia cantend to remain as nostalgia. One piece of American marketing theory says that the millennial generation, in particular, is longing for the familiar. Largely because the defining cultural motif of our times is to counter the exhaustive pace that technology is forcing on our lives. Millennials, this theory says, are looking for brands that remind them of growing up and that elicit feelings of safety, comfort, and happiness. And that there is a yearning to bring back the “good old days” as they remember them. This kind of marketing logic rests on the fact that people (millennials) are literally buying into the past.  The thesis is that if you can show that a brand has been a part of a culture in the past, it shows how relevant it is to the present.


But if a brand is rooted in nostalgia, the question that needs to be asked is how is the brand positioned to evolve?For me the most potent shortcoming of a nostalgia campaign in general is that it makes people remember why they fell in love with the brand, but doesn’t tell us how that love has evolved to the present day.  And that perhaps is the biggest risk of nostalgia marketing.Another problem for aging brands is trying to hit the sweet spot between the mass market and the demographic that the brand is currently missing out on and this is often an elusive task.


So, is nostalgia marketing common for other brands we know?  Almost every brand has had a brush with nostalgia marketing. Coke, Pepsi, Microsoft and many others. Two years ago, Coke even actually remastered its 1971 classic coke commercial created by McCann Erikson for 4k television.  At the 2018 Super Bowl a number of brands retreated into the past while playing the nostalgia theme. Here for example is the Pepsi commercial that aired on the Super Bowl which even brought Cindy Crawford back.


Unless it was just a reaction to the backlash they faced with the Kendal Jenner spot they had to ultimately withdraw.


Facebook is really good with nostalgia marketing. It keeps reminding you of pictures that you put on Facebook ten years ago.  The term ‘a blast from the past’, is a meme, that uses a new colloquialism that is actually related to nostalgia.


In closing, when you talk about an 80-year-old brand like Parle-G, one is bound to have one’s favourite campaigns for the brand. For me, my personal favourite is a string of commercials created about fifteen years ago.  I think these commercials hit the sweet spot for both what Parle-G as a brand stands for.  And without quite saying it explicitly in so many words it implied that Parle-G is Bharat ka Apna biscuit without the elaborate antics of anyone painting their faces with the national flag.





These old commercials reflect in many ways the real India and the real Parle-G in its most genuine context.  And while it shows young children in the commercial, we always knew that adults loved Parle-G equally!


But “the times they are a changin’ ” as Bob Dylan once said.  And the new campaign is well-made and perhaps reflects the new reality for this lovable old Indian brand.



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