A drumming gorilla may have been the biggest phenomenon in chocolate last year but the triumphant return of the Wispa bar has kicked off a new trend in retro confectionery. The pressure from social networking groups to bring back the bar became too much, claimed Cadbury, so it caved in and introduced it as a limited edition. According to a Cadbury spokesman, the bar flew off the shelves and the 23 million bars that were made sold out in half the anticipated time.
The PR generated by the story about Facebook users forcing Wispa’s return, meant the relaunch hardly needed advertising support, but it was backed by a press campaign that aimed to evoke memories of the Eighties, when Wispa was originally launched. Cadbury also launched a Wispa microsite, which included Eighties “music station” Wispa FM, and a gallery of fashion disasters from the time, underlining its determination to tap into the nostalgia for the brand.
It’s a success that has apparently spurred Cadbury’s rivals into action. Mars is bringing back Opal Fruits, now Starburst, for three months to celebrate the ten years since the product’s rebrand, and Nestlé is hoping to tap into the trend by relaunching Drifter (MW last week).
A quick look at the groups on Facebook shows that consumer appetite for nostalgia brands has not yet been satisfied. There are more than 500 groups for Wispa, either calling for or celebrating its return, 102 for Opal Fruits and one for Drifter. There are also assorted groups for brands such as Vice Versa, Spira and Aztec Bars.
Such relaunches are popular with consumers because they are reminded of their childhood and a simpler time, says FutureBrand business strategy director Adrian Goldthorpe. He explains: “Confectionery goes beyond nostalgia, it give us a feeling of freedom. As we get older we’re told not to eat chocolate but as children we were allowed to do it.”
Cate Hunt, director of cultural insight at Added Value, adds that people also associate chocolate with treats and being spoilt, which creates an emotional attachment to these brands and a feeling of warmth.
It is not a new trend: Spangles was briefly revived in the Eighties and earlier this year Mars brought back its iconic Work Rest and Play strapline (MW September 13), albeit an updated version. However, nothing has attracted national interest like the relaunches of Wispa and Opal Fruits. And now rumours of Snickers rebranding back to Marathon has sent an excited ripple through the online world.
Some industry insiders are less impressed; they believe the trend means there is no real innovation in the category. One describes the rush of relaunches by rivals as “copy cat”.
Goldthorpe believes there is “little scope” for innovation in confectionery, particularly for sugar brands like Starburst. He says: “It is very difficult to get new news in sweets brands as it is a cheap commodity area to be in. There have already been moves to take out the bad stuff and bring in natural flavours. The relaunch of Opal Fruits will help give it a burst of summer activity.”
It will also mean parents will introduce their children to the brand, says Ned Colville, senior consultant at The Value Engineers. He adds: “It creates a narrative story around the brand and a bit more of an emotional engagement.”
That said, Colville believes there is a danger of confusing and alienating consumers by switching between the two brands. He points out that Mars has spent a lot of money on the Mr T ads for Snickers; a return to Marathon even for a limited period, could undermine that. “With Starburst/Opal Fruits,” he adds, “There might be even more of an outcry when it is switched back.”
The interest in nostalgia brands is seen by many as injecting new energy into a mature market, particularly one where confectionery manufacturers have struggled to innovate and new brands, such as Nestlé Double Cream, often fail to make an impact with consumers.
Yet, while bringing back brands with a blaze of publicity can generate strong sales initially, ultimately these brands were originally scrapped because sales were poor.
Wispa is expected to be brought back permanently, although Cadbury declined to confirm this. The Cadbury spokesman concedes there is “only so much nostalgia you can milk” and he adds that if it returns it will have to “stand on its own two feet” or be scrapped again.
And nostalgia alone is not enough, warns Hunt, who says brands will have to be brought into the here and now to survive in a competitive market. She points to BMW’s relaunch of Mini that played on its heritage but in a contemporary way.
While chocolate manufacturers are enjoying present success by resurrecting the past, industry experts warn such a strategy must sit alongside new product launches rather than replace them. As Hunt point out: “If they keep doing this, they won’t have retro brands for the future.”