Back to the Past. Nostalgia is Back in Branding, Again.

This week MillerCoors announced that they will test market a new beer called “Batch 19,” bringing back a “pre-prohibition recipe.” The future is the past. And why not… we live in challenging times where we are all nervous about our future.

You’ve just got to look around to see how tough economic times strain our desire to take risks. It makes sense that we feel more comfortable with what we know than what we don’t know. Grandma’s recipes are looking better and better.

If you watched the Academy Awards you saw the glamorous styles of the ‘50’s walking down the red carpet. It looked like the return of Grace Kelly. Glamorous, sophisticated, formal, elegant. Little risk and lots of the past. On the fashion runways in Paris, Milan and New York, there are not many scary new styles. A lot of ideas born of styles gone by.

In film, the big releases coming out this year will be sequels. Can you imagine “Wall Street 2” with Michael Douglas returning with a role? Or continuing franchises like “Batman,” “Shrek,”  “Iron Man” and “Sex in the City.” There is safety in predictable results.

In gaming, the Rubik’s Cube is back, as well as newer releases of video games like “Grand Theft Auto”, “Yakuza ” and even “Resident Evil”.

In products, we are seeing retro packaging and ideas from the past. One U.K. example, is P&G using a 50th anniversary to bring out a retro pack of the market leader Fairy liquid. So their original generic bottle is back, and being celebrated as fresh. Old is new.

It’s true that retro brings a nostalgic authenticity that simply can’t be easily created. But it does more. It implicitly carries with it the notion of safety and security. Consumers can have something fresh without taking risks.

For marketers, this raises an interesting dilemma that must be carefully challenged. On the one hand, they must always be stretching the envelope to find new and differentiating ideas to excite their key consumers. On the other hand, they must speak to their targets in a way that addresses the mindset of where consumers are today. The paradox is that consumers want the newest and best, but want it served up in a palatable manner. So don’t scare them with risky ideas, but give them new ideas clothed in what is familiar.

The irony is that only the boldest companies will put fresh, new, innovative ideas out there. Ideas that stretch the envelope and scare us a little. Ideas that make us change how we view the world. But to those that take the risks, the rewards should be enormous.