Marketers often make changes to brands to make the brand seem current or exciting. Some updates are successful while others are spectacular failures. This dissertation establishes a connection between consumer acceptance or rejection of updated brands and the consumer’s reported brand nostalgia. In this dissertation, I refine the current marketing definitions of nostalgia to develop a more specific construct of brand nostalgia, develop a scale to measure the construct of brand nostalgia, examine the differences between schemas for nostalgic brands and non-nostalgic brands, and show that consumers’ affective and attitudinal responses to changes in a brand are moderated by brand nostalgia.
Nostalgia has been defined as “a positively toned evocation of a lived past” (Davis 1979), and “a fondness for possessions and activities associated with days of yore” (Holbrook 1993). Consumers have been observed to engage in nostalgic behaviors, from re-watching favorite old movies (Holbrook, 1993) to reminiscing about favorite cars from their youth (Brown, Kozinets and Sherry 2003) to consuming specific foods as a way to reconnect with the past (Loveland, Smeesters and Mandel, 2010). Consumers have also reported nostalgic feelings for particular brands or items (Holbrook and Schindler 2003).
When individuals recall nostalgic memories, they recall affect and brand information stored in their schema for the target brand (Collins and Loftus 1975). Nostalgia is “not a true recreation of the past but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together and in the process, all negative emotions filtered out” (Hirsch 1992). Thus, the individual’s memory trace is biased, leading the individual to recall the brand as being better than it actually was. Further, when an individual forms a relationship with a brand, the individual incorporates affective and attitudinal information into the schema, leading to a more complex, more robust schema (Fournier 1998; Smit, Bronner and Tolboom 2006). Once the individual experiences the updated brand, he compares the new experience to his biased memory and attempts to assimilate the new stimuli into his or her existing schema. The individual’s ability to assimilate the new experience into their schema built on the biased memory will depend on the degree of change to the brand as well as the individual’s level of nostalgia towards the brand.
When a highly nostalgic individual processes a changed brand, his more complex and affect-based schema will lead to a smaller latitude of acceptance for the change (Hart and Diehl 1993). If the change falls outside the latitude of acceptance, the individual will reject the updated brand (Atkins, Deaux & Bieri 1967). Conversely, less nostalgic individuals are likely to have less complex, less affect-laden, less positively biased memories of the brand, making them more likely to assimilate the change (Meyers-Levy and Sternthal 1993; Martin 1986; Martin, Seta and Crelia 1990).
This dissertation combines literature from marketing, psychology and sociology to identify the ways in which the cognitive structures nostalgic individuals access when exposed to a brand towards which they are nostalgic differ from the cognitive structures non-nostalgic individuals access. This dissertation further provides a framework for both practitioners and academics to better predict consumer responses to changes in brands with nostalgic cache.