With the popularity of #throwbackthursday posts on social media, it’s no surprise that consumers have a preference for retro packaging that sparks nostalgia. It reminds people of special times, and hits the consumer on an emotional level. In some cases, modern packaging can be over the top, and some customers want something simpler and will gravitate to a look from the past. However, there is a delicate art to making retro packaging that truly works for brands.

Why is nostalgia so effective?

Brands across nearly ever sector have employed nostalgic packaging. One of the top reasons to use this form of packaging is to create a stronger emotional bond between customers and your product. This technique works because it brings consumers back to a simpler time, to the “good old days,” so to speak.

In addition, this form of packaging can make newer brands seem like they have been around for longer than they really have.

Most importantly, retro packaging sends strong trust signals to customers. Your brand has stood the test of time and endured, and it will continue to last and be trusted. 

Using retro packaging  for a well-known brand

Many well-established brands choose to introduce throwback packaging for a limited time to create customer appeal. For example, this packaging style can be used during the holidays or a particular season. Additionally, throwback packaging is highly effective for celebrating a big company anniversary, such as a 50th. It speaks to the history of your brand—where you came from and how far you will be going.

This can increase the authenticity of the brand because it speaks to the company’s history and reminds customers where the brand came from. It presents an unspoken image of quality—while other brands were folding under challenges or poor products or service, yours held up. Using vintage packaging designs can work as a trust signal to customers because your brand has lasted through the ages.

Some companies may steer away from this style of packaging because they worry it will make the brand look outdated or out of touch. If your current packaging design has replaced an older one, don’t bring back a carbon copy of the older style: Take some of the previous elements and mix them with current equities to create something that is new to both eras. For example, if the packaging materials have changed over time, use the same logo and graphics.

Livening up a younger  brand with retro packaging

And retro packaging isn’t limited to older, established brands. Younger companies can borrow cues from old-fashioned fonts, color schemes and graphics to bring a vintage look to life. Classic typefaces, patterns and layouts can elevate your packaging and bring it back to a different time. It sends a message to customers that the business is interested in simplifying things for their customers. For example, this style of packaging is highly effective for food products because many consumers are concerned with how food is sourced and how many ingredients it includes.

Some cosmetics companies utilize retro-inspired designs, even though the brand may not be that old. This style of packaging lends itself to a highly colorful carton, and it gives the brand a ton of individuality. In competitive market segments, this works as a big advantage.

For newer, innovative brands, borrowing cues from other product sectors can make your packaging design more creative and separate it from other brands on shelf. For instance, a milk carton design could be used for storing other food products. Antique candy containers are a popular design for products  as well.

One of the other key strengths of retro packaging is it can feel personal and homemade. With brands being able to reach customers around the world, many people want something that feels more personalized. 

When to exercise caution  with retro packaging styles

While nostalgic packaging is highly effective for many products, it may not be the best choice for every item. Companies need to consider cultural factors and consumer sentiment in context. It’s important not to alienate your target audience.

For brands that do utilize old-school packaging, consider the  era your brand is best suited to. Because this has been a  popular approach for many brands in the past few years, some product sectors are heavily saturated with nostalgic packaging.  If your brand implements this approach, it will not act as a competitive differentiator.

Take a measured approach to nostalgic branding—too much of the past can be overwhelming for modern customers. For a nostalgic but still modern design, exercise simplicity. You can still convey a sense of history with a minimalistic approach. It should still be perfectly clear what your brand stands for when consumers pick up your packaging.

When used well, packaging designs that leverage nostalgia spark a sense of excitement and remind customers of the simple, slower paced days gone by. Implementing this style strategically and showing brand personality with it can make you more recognizable while setting you apart from competitors.