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Nostalgia on the High Street

27/04/17

Nostalgia has been one of the key drivers in branding for several years. Most famously (or notoriously), Cadbury brought back Wispa, following a social media campaign calling for its reintroduction (orchestrated by its PR agency). We then saw The Grocer getting in on the act, with its “Bring Back A Brand” campaign resulting in the revival of old ice cream favourite, Funny Feet. It isn’t just sweet treats that can bask in the warm glow, either. Asda’s use of the Polaroid brand – famous, of course, for photography – across its full range of computers and technology (which can be found elsewhere on this site) shows another approach to reviving a brand associated with the good old days.

Reports this week that Woolworths may be brought back to our high streets in some form prompt the question of how much nostalgia is really worth, commercially-speaking. Reviving a chocolate bar is low-risk for a confectionery company, with no need for brand or product development. Resurrecting a retailer that failed because, frankly, people no longer wanted to shop there, is a challenge of a very different scale.

Tony Page, the former Managing Director of Woolworths who is looking at reviving it, was quoted by Retail Gazette as saying that any new stores should be focused on being part of the community, rather than in big shopping centres, adding “It’s much easier to walk down the road than order on Amazon.” At face value this does not make a lot of sense, especially now so many people can access Amazon via their smartphones, but Mr Page’s point may be that the immediacy of picking something off the shelf, and bringing it home there and then, is more satisfying than ordering online and waiting for it to arrive. Impulse purchases are less appealing when they involve next-day delivery.

Woolworths tried to base their positioning on value, as its well-known advertising slogan “A visit to Woolworths is well worth it” suggested. A decade on from the retailer’s demise and the value end of the market looks very different. Is there room for Woolworths on a high street already featuring the likes of Wilko and, of course, Poundland?

The other pillar of the Woolworths brand was fun, and much of its range in the later years was dedicated to gaming, entertainment and toys. Having spent some time in gaming stores, as part of a research project, we have gained some insight into how tough, and specialist, this category is. It’s hard to see success down that path.

What, then, could the new Woolies be for? “Healthy impulses” would be an interesting angle, given current consumer (and political) trends. Doubtless there would be plenty of affection and interest from shoppers who grew up with Woolworths. Translating that into sales means retailing for the way we live now, not the way we shopped back then.

Image by Ben Brooksbank

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