The retro revolution has been written about extensively — the reappearance of products that evoke positive memories from the past. However, one specific slice of this sweet nostalgia pie has been quietly notching up great success, hence deserves special attention — these are retro products with a digital twist.

Last month, I decided to buy myself a gift I had been longing for, the Saregama Carvaan. The Carvaan brings back the charm of an old-world transistor radio and also evokes the deep love for old Hindi films songs that lives on in my middle-aged heart. The 5,000 songs and the Binaca Geetmala it contains make it such a beautiful time machine.

But what I also enjoy thoroughly about the Carvaan is its Bluetooth connectivity, and a companion app that works on my android mobile phone. These digital features enable me to choose the song I want to hear, or create my own personal playlist. It is simple to connect to, and I can just sit back and listen to songs of my choice. Saregama has married nostalgia with digital.

Even as I was playing around with my new Carvaan, I heard news that another favourite product from the past, Rola Cola, was being relaunched by Parle. As a young sales manager in the early 1990s, I used to carry around a tube of this cola-flavoured candy as a thirst quencher. My eyes lit up.

However, what struck me was the sequence of events that led to the relaunch of Rola Cola. These events were far from retro, but totally embedded in today’s digital age. A tweet from a customer urged Parle to bring back this brand. Parle responded promptly, putting up a Twitter post with the hashtag #BringBackRolaCola. And then it said — “If all you need is Rola Cola, then all we need is 10K retweets.”

Here was a company using the power of digital social media to resurrect a much-loved retro product. The campaign has been a big success and Rola Cola will soon be back, its rebirth having been anchored in a digital twist.

Both these success stories should give marketers food for thought — why does retro and digital work so well, and what are possible methods to leverage this magical combination?

In my initial view, there are five routes to retro-digital nirvana.

Building digital features

This route is similar to what Saregama Carvaan has done. The product evokes nostalgia through pristine retro styling and content, but also builds in digital features that offer great convenience to modern consumers. Another example is that of Swiss watches, such as Tag Heuer, which combine the timeless appeal of traditional analogue watch-making with digital features of a connected wearable. Many product categories can combine retro looks with useful digital features. Consumers love this because it provides them the best of both worlds.

A magical avatar

When retro brands come back in an entirely digital avatar, this can create magic too. An outstanding illustration is Pokemon Go, which resurrected Pokemon, fictional creatures created way back in the mid-1990s, through a digital app. Released in 2016, twenty years after the original card game had been launched, Pokemon Go used digital features such as mobile GPS and augmented reality to engage consumers in a highly addictive game.

It has been a very profitable mobile app, having now crossed 1 billion downloads and 145 million active consumers. The digital avatar captivates millennials and attracts them to the original retro characters.

Powered by social media

The Rola Cola relaunch story is an excellent example of retro products being powered by social media. Combining nostalgia with social media is so powerful because we don’t just want to enjoy positive memories by ourselves, we are keen to share them with our friends and relatives, and engage them in pleasant conversations about the past.

What better way to do this than social media platforms that link us across geographies, and also provide easily accessible nostalgia hashtags such as #TBT (Throwback Thursdays)? So, for instance, if brands such as Titan or VIP wish to use nostalgia to engage millions of their customers with their first-edition products, social media could well be the logical choice.

E-commerce push

Some retro products are likely to have niche audiences and, therefore, it would be difficult to build mainstream sales channels for these relatively low-volume products. Here, retro can readily leverage the power of e-commerce sites such as Amazon, Flipkart or Tata CLiQ, to reach out to the niche consumer segments they wish to target.

For instance, the Coca Cola company chose this route, when it relaunched on Amazon its limited quantities of its age-old citrus flavoured drink called “Surge,” in response to a petition from consumers in the US.

Technovation

Technovation — adding digital or technology sheen to a traditional product — is another route. For instance, a heritage restaurant could present its retro-themed or timeless menu to consumers on a digital iPad, rather than in a traditional paper format. Consumers love it, because interacting with technology has such a lovely feel. This concept has been articulated brilliantly by the award-winning consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, who calls it technovation. In simple terms, the art of impressing consumers with digital technology which is already deeply integrated into their lives.

Even as I head off to listen to Kishore Kumar on my Saregama Carvaan, I am quite sure we will see many more retro products with digital twists. Simply because the underlying drivers are so powerful.

Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. These are his personal views. bhatharish@hotmail.com

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