The Choco Taco and ever-present nostalgia

An announcement that discontinued a beloved treat shows the pull of memory.

Choco Taco

Choco Taco's demise pulled at the heartstrings. (Photo: Unilever)

Peruse the lineup of recent brand collaborations and new releases, and a flood of nostalgia-driven media, products, oral histories, sequels and anniversary events will start standing out.

Kellogg’s recently partnered with Nickelodeon, and the focus was a throwback to the slime era of the 1990s. On Netflix, the latest season of Stranger Things reminds us that the series doubles as a thriller and a trip through the 80s, presenting plenty of brand collaboration opportunities along the way. Meanwhile, one of the nation's biggest music festivals of the fall is called When We Were Young.

The pace and consistency of these memory-invoking moves begs the question: Why is a consumer culture that’s always looking for what’s next so obsessed with the past?

For one perspective on what's at work here, let’s unwrap the recent exit of the Choco Taco.

On Monday, Unilever-owned Klondike announced that it was discontinuing the beloved, frozen treat that made tacos sweet.

Like many developments over the past two years, this news was deemed the result of a mismatch between supply and demand.

“Over the past 2 years, we have experienced an unprecedented spike in demand across our portfolio and have had to make very tough decisions to ensure availability of our full portfolio nationwide,” the brand wrote on Twitter.

An outcry on the internet followed. Headlines talked of people in mourning. Many talked about not only their love for the combination of tasty dessert and Mexican staple, but also the memories associated with it.

The catch is that many more who were moved by its demise probably haven't had a Choco Taco in a while.

As The Guardian put it, “Some Twitter mourners admitted that they had not had a Choco Taco since childhood, but the pain was real.”

They remember the taste of the Choco Taco, and how that made them feel. Maybe, it even harkened back to where they were when they would eat it.

That doesn't just tap into what’s in a person's head, or their hunger. It also pulls at their heart, producing some combination of longing and satisfaction.

That's a powerful emotion for a product to inspire.

As this sentiment took hold, sudden last-ditch efforts to preserve the Choco Taco emerged. US Senator Chris Murphy proposed invoking the Defense Product Act. Reddit cofounder and venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian offered to buy the rights to the product, and make more. An artist preserved it in 3D, and was hailed as a hero.

As humans, we want to hold onto that tangible connection to the past, even if we hadn't thought about it in a while. Factor in ice cream, and there's a strong chance that the memory is a joyful one.

As the news and remembrances made the rounds, rumors started emerging saying that the Choco Taco's cancellation may have been a marketing stunt. That's what happens when people want to hold onto it so badly.

Even if it's not something they seek out, knowing it's always there is comforting in and of itself.

Plus, people have seen comebacks before.

Klondike disavowed the rumors, saying the discontinuation was real. At the same time, a glint of hope emerged for some as the statement from Klondike suggested the brand was "discussing next steps."

All the same, it had tapped into the same kind of nostalgia in a cancellation that brands hope to inspire with their new collaborations and releases. If Klondike executives were to bring it back, it feels like they could probably sell a few.

After all, you've now thought about the Choco Taco for the first time in years.

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