In France, Evian banks on 1998 nostalgia
Friday 4 July, half-time during the France-Germany World Cup quarter-final. Germany is leading 1-0 but Evian has taken a gamble, rebroadcasting its 1998 TV spot featuring swimming babies. “1998, a year we dream to re-live,” the ad declares over a background of referee whistles.
With perfect and studied timing, Evian had added the video to its YouTube account on 15 June, as France played its first match against Honduras. The brand announced the campaign on Twitter on 25 June, just as France went through to the last sixteen after the match against Ecuador. The tweet said: “In 1998, our babies were swimming. What are your memories of this mythical year?”
So far, the YouTube video has been watched 158,716 times. The tweet has gathered 178 retweets and 102 favourites, with the ad picked up and commented upon independently in other tweets too - a decent though not high level of engagement. In comparison, a tweet featuring tennis player and Evian poster-woman Maria Sharapova, posted on the 3 July, has so far gathered 214 retweets and 508 favourites*.
User responses to the tweet vary: some tweeted back it was the year they were born, the year they got married, the year they saw their first gig… Many tweeted that for them, 1998 was all about France’s win. In short, the swimming babies succeeded in linking Evian to positive emotions and often life-changing memories.
Known for its imaginative and cute TV ads that play on its trademark theme of youth by water, Evian had a great marketing idea in rebroadcasting its 1998 ad. Though I remembered the spot, had I seen it without background information, I would have been incapable of dating it. Once I knew, it was as if it had dropped me in a comforting bath.
Calling on nostalgia is nothing new in advertising. Analysing the trend last year, specialised publication AdWeek remarked: “In a study of brands that had consumers buzzing during the first quarter, NBCUniversal Integrated Media noticed that those connecting to the past resonated strongly with consumers and shot to the top of its Brand Power Index (BPI)”.
Although nostalgia is a proven advertising strategy, Evian did take a risk by betting that France would get behind its national team. After the team’s skin-of-the-teeth qualification in November 2013, 79% of the French population had a negative opinion of Les Bleus. By the quarter finals, 62% of the French population had a positive view of them. News analysis has been focusing on this regained popularity as much as they have been discussing the team’s sports qualities. This might have been a factor in Evian deciding to spend the €200,000 or so the 32 seconds spot broadcast at peak time would have cost.
As with any bout of nostalgia, it doesn’t matter that 1998 wasn’t actually as good a year as France now remembers, since the World Cup title has thrown most other events in a pink fog. In a 2010 article about “The Power of Nostalgia in Advertising” for Branding Strategy Insider, brand consultant Derrick Daye explains that “every time we remember a past event it not only evokes the earlier memory, but can re-cast the past into a more pleasing “remembered” version. Memory, thinking and feeling are an active, shaping process.” In 1998 France, unemployment in Q2 leading up to the World Cup was at 11.7%, two points higher than what it is today. The French economy was restarting independently of football, after some tough times in the mid-90’s, thanks to a strong US growth. Had France won against Germany last Friday, and gone to hold the trophy, economists agree that it wouldn’t have resulted in similar economic results because the current landscape is too different.
But that’s irrelevant to Evian’s advertising strategy because, four World Cups from now, we would have remembered 2014 as a great year for France. Nothing shortcuts memory like happiness.
*As of 9am on 06 July 2014