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“Nostalgic Brand Love”—WPI Research Explains What Drives Consumers When a Favorite Brand Goes Away

Business School Professor’s Study Focuses on the Role of Social Media in Empowering Consumers
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March 29, 2023

What drives consumers to organize and fight for the revival of discontinued candies, pizzas, sodas, and other brand-name products? Purvi Shah, associate professor of marketing in The Business School at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) answers the question in new research that describes one piece of the phenomenon as “nostalgic brand love.”

Part love for a brand and part nostalgia for a past when the brand was popular, nostalgic brand love is a new term coined by Shah and her collaborators to describe the longing to buy and consume a beloved brand that is not available anymore. In research published in the Journal of Brand Management, Shah said nostalgic brand love can be powerful fuel for online consumer campaigns aimed at resurrecting dead brands.


Purvi Shah

Purvi Shah

“Companies delete brands for a variety of reasons, and consumers have historically protested those decisions, especially if they loved the brand,” Shah said. “Today, the internet has transformed consumer activism. Consumers now have easy access to online petitions, company websites, and communication channels on social media. Digital tools have made it possible for brand fans to successfully compel companies to revive brands.”

Shah and her research collaborators focused on a specific campaign that succeeded in bringing Surge, a Coca-Cola beverage, back to the market. Surge was launched in 1997, discontinued in 2004, and revived in 2014 after fans lobbied for Surge with a website, online petitions, and a Facebook fan page that drew more than 350,000 people.

Shah and her collaborators surveyed members of this Facebook fan group and found that by deleting Surge, the soda’s maker left fans feeling that they had lost the freedom to buy and drink their cherished soda. The deletion triggered nostalgic brand love and led to psychological reactance, which is a way of thinking and behaving when a person perceives a threat to their freedom.

Shah said the findings could help brand managers better understand what drives customers to protest brand deletion. This will help brand managers make an informed decision about bringing back a deleted brand so that it not only delights the nostalgic consumer and fan base but also enhances revenues and profits of the revived brand.

The research also highlights how social media has empowered consumers who want their beloved brands brought back to life.

“In a connected digital world, one consumer can harm a company’s reputation with a message, tweet, or post,” Shah said. “It is critical for brand managers to understand what motivates consumer activism so that they can better manage the deletion of brands and mitigate any potential backlash that might occur.”


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