Time Travel Democratised

Quick Read: Time travel, branding and public sentiment indices could have a lot in common. To know more, just ask Zlaty Bazant (the Slovak beer) for a test drive to the 1970s. 

Here’s an exercise. Think of any science fiction story. Anything.

Now take a few seconds and reflect on its theme.

Chances are that its theme might not be the future. You would notice that the genre uses the future only as a canvas on which to imprint its real concerns—the present.

The insight: Counterintuitively, time travel stories are often those tales that are most anchored in the present.

Similarly, stories that transport you to the past do so only to provide the necessary distancing effect for the narrative to be able to metaphorically address the most pressing concerns of the here and now – the present.

This has an interesting corollary for brands.

Na zdravie, Slovensko (“Cheers, Slovakia!”)

Central and eastern European countries faced the scourge of communism for most part of the last century. So it’s only natural to expect that the people in these countries would not want to be reminded of those darker times.

Yet, a curious trend seems to be suggesting the contrary in recent times.

Retro is seriously back with a bang.

  • Polish hipsters are lapping up retro furniture of the Jaruzelski era.
  • Lidl stores (the German supermarket chain) in Czech Republic have sales of imitation communist products in their now popular “Retro Week” promotions
  • Even the communist era beers are getting resurrected across the region

(Retro Products at Lidl. Source)

As The Economist article frames it, communist nostalgia is not new, but it does seem to be having a new wave of resurgence. While this makes some sense in Russia, which ruled the empire, it is puzzling to understand its relevance among the central and eastern Europeans whom the Soviets ground under their boots.

And to frame this irony even more acutely, this affection for the socialist era products seems embodied even in the consumer products that are marketed by Western multinationals!

For example, in May this year a Heineken-owned Slovak brewery, Zlaty Bazant, introduced a premium version of its beer based on a 1973 recipe, priced 20% higher than its standard line up. Even its slogan Na zdravie, Slovensko! (“Cheers, Slovakia!”) vaunts its local roots as opposed to typical beer marketing themes that emphasize Europeanness and modernity.

zlaty-bazant

Zlaty Bazant Ad. Source

Yet, this doesn’t necessarily reflect a desire of these people to return to the pre-1989 era. That’s where it becomes a bit complicated (in terms of their relationship with these brands).

The insight here: As Ivan Klima, a Czech novelist, puts it, “nobody is nostalgic for the communist era, but many people are nostalgic for their youth”.

Why?

Most people in the region are believed to be discouraged about the future.

In fact according to the recent Eurobarometer survey, just 30% of Slovaks and 26% of Czechs have a positive view of the European Union. Poland and Hungary are more pro-European, but have elected governments determined to check the power of Brussels. (source)

And these themes of insecurity and pessimism in the current socio political context manifest among the central and eastern Europeans as an inexplicable longing for brands of the bygone communist era. As if returning to these good old things could bring about a sense of security and stability amidst the slipping sands of the current times.

So if a Serb is seen enjoying a 1973 communist era quaff like the Zlaty Bazant, he is perhaps not so much contemplating nationalizing the auto industry as he is struggling with his attempts to reconcile with his current times.

Almost like the fascination with that time travel story to the past that is fueled by the strifes of the current times.

This could have interesting implications on brand building.

Public sentiment index (or their proxies) can perhaps be a lighthouse for brand builders. If the sentiment is low for a prolonged period of time in a market, brand builders there could perhaps do well to dust the grime off legacy brands and shine a light on them.

And may be even charge a premium for the same, as it is after all time travel, only packaged in a little bottle.

(Featured Image: Zlaty Bazant saying “Merry Christmas, Slovakia!”)

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2 thoughts on “Time Travel Democratised

  1. Interesting idea, but I think it would only apply to some peoples, or maybe continents. I lived in the USSR and in a satellite country too, so I’m appalled Eastern Europeans would want to be reminded of their recent history. Though Europe is in complaining mode, wallowing in regret and yearning for the comfort of long-gone secure jobs. On other continents, people are looking forward to “better” futures, and might not want to dwell on the past.

    • That’s right. Most countries in the world (fortunately) seem to be on a forward looking optimistic mode. I would argue that even the CEE countries, have their own way of framing the future and this is perhaps a reflection of the same. The signals being sent are no doubt complicated and that’s what makes it all the more interesting.

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