Brands can boost the loyalty factor by playing the nostalgia card, but will retro have a long shelf life, wonders Sam Ellison

Looking at the current trend in advertising you'd be forgiven for thinking you've had your own 'Ashes to Ashes' moment! Persil, M&S, Sainsbury's, Hovis, Milky Bar and Virgin Atlantic are all using campaigns that hark back to the past, using retro images and/or flashbacks to their iconic TV ads from way back when. Monster Munch has reverted to its original packaging. Cadbury's Wispa is back and there's online gossip about Starburst and Snickers returning to their former names.

In fashion there's an 80s revival with shoulder pads making a comeback (bad enough first time around?). Even new brands are getting in on the act with, for example, Soap & Glory using 40s and 50s pin-up girl imagery. What on earth's going on?

During shaky economic times brands are looking to remind consumers that they are tried, tested and, most importantly, trustworthy - all very important values when consumer confidence is low. When times are hard people tend to gravitate towards things that remind them of the 'good old days'. They are reassuring and take us back to times before the conspicuous consumption of the past two and a half decades that is felt to have created our downfall.

Brands going retro have recognised this can be a way to engage with slightly less cost-conscious consumers, persuading them to remain loyal, rather than risking lower quality by trading down. In addition, they are tapping into consumers' greater awareness of sustainability and desire for a less throwaway society. Think Mary Portas and her Mary Queen of Charity Shops. Now recycling is for fashionistas rather than grannies! Also, for the likes of M&S, Virgin and Persil who are celebrating anniversaries, this approach doesn't just evoke nostalgia, but also makes a bold statement about their longevity and ability to ride the storms.

As long as the economy continues to wobble, retro is here to stay. However, when the long-anticipated green shoots really do appear we will start to see more risk taking and real investment in NPD. But for now, it seems that old is the new new.

Sam Ellison is head of UK business development at brand design agency Anthem Worldwide.