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For the older consumer, nostalgia is indulgence, but for the millenial, it’s retro cool. Photo: iStockphoto
For the older consumer, nostalgia is indulgence, but for the millenial, it’s retro cool. Photo: iStockphoto

When everything old is new again

Companies are increasingly tapping nostalgia drive business, be it mobile phones (Nokia 3310), photography (Polaroid) or even beverages (Paper Boat)

Nostalgia makes for good business. In fashion, it’s a given. Currently it is the comeback of flare pants, belle sleeve tops, power suits and ruffles. Think 1980’s. Before that it was the 1960’s, with the stylish Mad Men, and prior to that something else.

It works in tech as well. There is the Nokia 3310 that was relaunched in March this year. In markets like the UK, the 3310 was sold out on launch and buyers had to wait for one or two weeks for stocks to get replenished.

In April, music company Saregama India Ltd launched Saregama Caravan, a stereo system that looks like the radio from the 1970’s and 1980’s, with pre-loaded songs from that era to appeal to consumers above the age of 35. Then there are the vinyls, which remain popular. Even the humble cassette player and tapes are staging a comeback.

All this in the age of digital music and music streaming.

The retro resurrection has given the Polaroid camera a new lease of life. And even stationery like hardback paper diaries and year planners are seeing steady demand growth in the age of smartphones and tablets.

As for food, nostalgia has a proven track record. Think mom’s cooking, samosa, kala khatta gola or Thums Up, which remains India’s top-selling cola brand.

For the older consumer, nostalgia is indulgence. It’s wearing rose-tinted glasses. It is going back in time and reliving a happy memory. For instance, if you grew up in the western or northern part of India, the smell of the samosa is likely to transport you back to memories of a childhood birthday party.

Newer consumer companies like Hector Beverages Pvt. Ltd’s Paper Boat have managed to take consumers for a walk down memory lane with drinks like jamun kala khatta. In an age of impersonal digital media, it has created a feeling of connectedness through nostalgia.

Even restaurateurs have tapped this positive emotion.

Indian food, albeit with a modern twist, is a mega phenomenon among the millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000). Like our grandparents who did not like to experiment with their food, the young Indian has come a full circle to appreciate Indian cuisine. A host of restaurants like Bombay Canteen, Farzi Café and Toast and Tonic are testimony to this love affair.

But how do you explain nostalgia in the case of millennials? How can a 20-year-old be nostalgic about turntables which were not a part of her childhood home? Or how do you explain the growing popularity of Indian food among the young when there is a wider global cuisine and choices ranging from falafel to pasta, pizza and dim sums available?

For the younger consumer, nostalgia is novelty, says fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee. He goes on to explain that the millennial consumers are far more inspired by our culture than the older generation or their parents. According to him, the paradox is that when everything starts to be modern, the old by default starts to be luxury.

Also, for a generation that has grown up with smartphones and tablets, technology and its progression is a given.

Author David Sax, in the introduction to his latest book The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter writes that on the way to digital utopia, we have begun to fall back in love with the very analog goods and ideas the tech gurus insisted that we no longer needed.

Businesses that once looked outdated, from film photography to brick-and-mortar retail, are now springing to life.

Notebooks, records, and stationery have become cool again.

Today everything is available at the click of a mouse and in large stores. There are no trade barriers. Back in the day, there were a lot of barriers—Coke, Toblerone and Kraft singles were not easily available and were a novelty. In the digital world, music playlists can be created in a few clicks and shared instantly with apps like Spotify.

Mixing cassette tapes is tough. Listening to them requires patience as you can’t just skip to your favourite song.

The newness then is in the old. It’s probably the 1970’s gramophone record that has survived the test of time.

Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.

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