The Warm Blanket of Nostalgic Branding
I lost my grandfather to cancer a few years ago.
And one of the last conversations he and I had has stuck with me, popping into my head at random every few weeks. I asked him if he felt like the world had gotten better or worse in his lifetime (all 87 years of it). And he unequivocally answered that it had gotten worse.
I asked him to explain, expecting—maybe projecting?—him to talk about how our country seems more divided than ever. Or how social media and corporate news have come to dominate our lives. Or how we’ve all come to live in a throw away culture.
But he didn’t talk about any of that, or anything negative. Instead, he talked about how great things used to be.
He talked about his Navy years and when he met my grandma. He talked about when he was a young father like me (completely overwhelmed but loving every minute of it). He talked about how lucky he was to have his family.
You could chalk his answers up as someone who knows they’re nearing the end of the line. Someone with more time and experiences behind them than ahead.
But I actually feel nostalgic for the past myself (and I'm hoping to have quite a few years ahead).
When you have a child, you blink, and suddenly find yourself celebrating a third or a fourth birthday. You were changing their diapers just yesterday and now they're reading chapter books (nearly) on their own.
And the damndest thing is you can't even remember what life was like before you met them.
As a father of two young daughters, I’m watching them grow and learn and experience new things every day. And I’ve had a lot of fun introducing them to the things that I enjoyed when I was a kid—camping, fishing, Goosebumps, Ghostbusters, Legos. (I’ll wait until they’re at least ten before introducing them to candy cigarettes and Schwarzenegger movies.)
If we can switch gears for a moment—away from this meandering story about my grandpa—let’s talk about why nostalgic branding is so compelling. Why is referencing the past such a surefire way to grab someone’s attention (and for our purposes here, get them to buy your beer)?
At a surface level, nostalgic branding—or, “debranding” as some in the design press are calling it—works because you’re evoking an emotional response. You're getting someone to think about something positive from the past in the hopes that they come to associate your brand with that fuzzy, warm feeling.
Nostalgic branding promises happy memories, connections and emotions.
In this context, I’m not buying Hamm’s this weekend because I like the beer. I’m buying Hamm’s because it’s what my grandpa drank (and it’s what I snuck from his garage fridge every summer as a kid). I'm not buying beer, I’m buying an opportunity to hold a tangible artifact that reminds me of someone I love.
Nostalgia grounds a brand in a sense of history, authenticity and provenance. It harkens back to a time when things seemed to be a little bit better, where deals were done on a handshake and good breaks came easier.
If you want to go back in time a bit, we wrote about this trend in detail back in our 2020 beer branding trends piece, calling it Nostalgic Regional.
Now whether or not the past was actually better doesn’t really matter here. We know that the past wasn’t perfect (in fact is was pretty terrible for an enormous swath of people). But in that moment where you're interacting with something that looks nostalgic, you're not thinking about the bad stuff.
You're not thinking about your children growing up too fast.
And you're not thinking about your grandpa shrinking away in a hospital bed.
In that moment, drinking that beer, you're thinking about the good times—the happy memories that have shaped your life and how you carry yourself in the world today.
I don't have anything actionable to end on here. I just wanted to tell you a story about my grandpa because I've been thinking about him a lot over the last few weeks.
I hope you have a great Christmas (and drink loads of great beer).
Let’s come back well rested in 2022 and burn the ships, shall we?
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