Nestlé has brought back the Milky Bar Kid. But will such an old-fashioned advert still work - and why do we love nostalgic adverts so much? CHARLOTTE PERCIVAL and STEPHEN LEWIS report.

WE Live in an age of ultra-violent computer games and hi-tech excess.

Yet marketing managers at Nestlé have decided that the way to our hearts is through a distinctly old-fashioned advertising campaign.

The Milky Bar Kid is saddling up again to head a £6 million advertising campaign to promote the new-style Milky Bar.

Schoolboy William Ray, aged 12, has the same innocent, clean-cut image as the last boy to play the part 20 years ago.

But in an era of hoodies, video-games and text-message bullying, it is hard to see how he is going to appeal to today's generation of youngsters.

So what is the thinking behind the new campaign?

Simple enough - Nestlé is aiming for the parents, not the youngsters themselves.

"The Milky Bar Kid is a hugely popular and memorable character which resonates with our target audience - mums and grandparents - who have happy memories of growing up with him," said marketing director David Rennie.

Presumably, the thinking goes, once the parents start eating and talking about the new chocolate bar, their children will want some too.

Nostalgia is becoming the marketing tool of the day - or one of them, at least. Nestlé isn't the only company looking to the past for inspiration. Bisto has recently auditioned for a new family, and Cadburys has announced that the chocolate bar Whispa will soon be back on our shelves.

TV drama has been getting in on the act. The Beeb revived Dr Who to massive acclaim - and TV series Life On Mars, which revelled in its retro Seventies settings, clothes and attitudes, was one of the biggest hits of recent years.

So what is it about nostalgia that we love so much? And will the new Nestlé ad work?

There is a real innocence about the clean-cut image of the Milky Bar Kid, says Nigel Briggs of The Press's own advertising department. "That will appeal to a lot of parents today who are fed up with all these video games."

Paul Featherstone, boss of York-based advertising agency Goldtempest, agrees. A lot of advertising campaigns targeted at people in their 30s to 50s hark back to earlier times, he said.

It is partly about trying to associate a brand with traditional values - and partly about getting customers to identify with a brand that might have been familiar to them as children.

That can help re-establish a brand that may have been forgotten, he said. "It is about saying, We're still here'."

But why is about nostalgia such a powerful force?

Whenever we look back at our own pasts, we tend to remember only the good things, says marketing psychologist Paul Buckley, of the University of Wales Institute at Cardiff. Thinking about our childhood - old friendships, our first day at school - therefore often gives us a "warm, glowey feeling".

Nostalgic adverts can play upon that. Often, we'll be convinced a product we loved as a child was better than it really was.

There is also the comfort factor associated with the safe and familiar, he says.

A need for comfort and stability is one of the things that motivates us most strongly. That can be especially marked in a world like ours which is moving and changing so rapidly. "Things do move very fast today, and some people feel a need to slow down a little bit."

Familiar products presented in a familiar way are always easy to persuade people to buy, he added.

Making decisions and choices is very stressful - we are always looking for excuses not to have to think. That is why advertising works in the first place.

You may not think you are taking much notice, but a successful advertising campaign will have lodged a brand name in your mind, so that at some level it becomes familiar.

Then, when you scan rows of products on the supermarket shelves, you are more likely to buy one you recognise, Mr Buckley said.

For all these reasons, nostalgia can be a powerful advertising technique.

But there could be a risk in Nestlé's strategy. "We do tend to remember things as being better than they were. And people's expectations are a lot higher today than they were 30 years ago.

"Adults tend to have more sophisticated tastes these days. If they tasted this new product, and decided it was vastly over-sweet, they might be disappointed. So it could be a dangerous tactic."

YORK-based TV producer and director Chris Wood has worked in advertising since 1982.

Humour and nostalgia are great ways to capture the public's imagination, he says.

"Nostalgia works because it takes you back to a time you when you didn't have the worries of a grown-up," he said.

"Things like rainy days and double decker buses take you back to a time when you didn't have to worry about things and all you had to do was go to school, play with your friends and play conkers.

"The other thing is you know more now than you did then. There's a certain one-up-man-ship in thinking you don't need to be told that, or seeing people in zinc baths, having their Friday night baths in from of the fire; we find it amazing because we don't have to do that now."

He remembers the Hovis advert set in the streets of Dorset, and an amusing advert staring Harry Enfield, which featured mercury telephones.

There was the notorious Flake advert, which had adolescent boys glued to their TV sets, and the Shake and Vac advert, which he still sings in the shower.

He preferred glamorous adverts though, such as Chinzano.

"I enjoy watching good adverts from the past, but there are so many cheap and nasty ones now; there's not a lot of wit on TV," he said.

Chris likes the family values portrayed through the old Bisto adverts, but believes they were not appreciated by the public.

"They take you back to a time that never happened," he said. "You didn't have that many brothers and sisters or a nice encompassing mum that looked after you and made sure everything was on the table - I think that's why I like them."

THE Smash advert was one of York author Donna Hay's favourites.

"I remember the robots peeling potatoes with their little metal knives," she said.

"I liked the Coca-Cola adverts too. I remember one where they sang I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing and they were all standing on a hill in their hippy frocks," she said. "I can picture them now."

Christmas was when Donna was at her most susceptible, and she remembers begging for a Chatty Cathy doll after watching an advert on TV.

"I would see the toys and want them," she said. "I remember Chatty Cathy and she had a hole in her head that hair came through.

"As a child you are more susceptible to them. Everyone likes to look back on the so-called good old days - even when the best thing was a doll that had a hole in its head. Everyone likes to think they don't make them like that anymore."

Now, she loves Cadbury's latest advert, which features a drumming gorilla.

"The first time I saw it my husband and I were wondering what it was about and when it started thrashing the drums we both burst out laughing.

"I also love that advert with the coloured balls which bounce down the street and the one with the exploding blocks of flats with all the colours.

"I hate the adverts with the angry woman shouting at the criminal lawyer on that claims advert - I can't bear it."

Peter Walker vividly remembers the old Guinness adverts from his boyhood.

The author, who wrote the books behind the TV series Heartbeat, did not have a television then, so only saw adverts in newspapers or on boards in town.

"The Guinness is good for you slogan really stood out," he said.

"Later, in the 1970s, I thought the Smash advert was wonderful. The PG Tips advert with the chimps was fantastic too.

"I know the adverts took a long time to make, but the personality presented on the chimps' faces as they were going through domestic problems were quite wonderful, and it was all sorted out over a cup of tea.

"I do like the humorous adverts."

Peter remembers his children singing jingles from adverts when they were younger.

On one occasion, an advert even prompted them to rush out and buy the sweets straight away.

Nostalgia is successful because it brings a warm feeling back to people, he said.

"Heartbeat goes back to the 1960s and I think its success is down think people do like good memories, but why that should happen I don't know."

Successful advertising campaigns... from Bisto to Um Bongo...

"Ah, Bisto" - the Bisto children were created in 1916 and first appeared in adverts in 1919. Auditions were recently held to find the new Bisto familyKellogg's Rice Krispies, "Snap! Crackle! and Pop!", 1940sCoca Cola - ads included "Always Coca Cola" "Just for the taste of it", the polar bears and the famous Christmas commercials (1940s onwards)M&Ms "melts in your mouth, not in your hands" (1954)The Marlboro man (1955)PG Tips - the chimps who survived disastrous house removals by capping their calamities with a hot cuppa. The chimps were voiced by celebrities such as Peter Sellers, Cilla Black and Bob Monkhouse (1956)"Have a break, have a Kit Kat" - Kit Kat (1957) s "A Mars a day helps you work rest and play" - 1959Only the crumbliest flakiest chocolate" - Cadbury's Flake (1959)Beans Meanz Heinz - there was outrage when Heinz threatened to ditch its most popular catch phrase a few years ago (1960s)"Now hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face, with mild, green, Fairy Liquid" - Fairy Liquid (1961)"Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach" - Heineken (1970s)"Anytime, anyplace, anywhere" - Martini (1970s) s"For mash get Smash" - first launched by a group of laughing Martian robots in 1974. The ad generated so much fan mail the agency behind it had to prepare special literature to send out in reply"Do the Shake and Vac, and put the freshness back" - sung by a dancing housewife as she gaily vacuumed her living room (1976)If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit, join our club" - Club Biscuits (1977)"Just one Cornetto" - a singing gondolier made Walls Cornetto even more tempting in the 1980s"I'd rather have a bowl of Coco Pops" - Coco Pops (1980s) "P..p..pick up a penguin" - Penguin bars (1980)"A finger of fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat - Cadbury's Fudge (1985)"The best a man can get" Gillette (1989)"You know when you've been Tangoed" - Tango (1990s)"That's Asda price, bang bang" (Asda) "Magic Moments" - Quality Street (1990s)"Hello Boys" - Playtex Wonderbra (1990s)"Um Bongo, they drink it in the Congo" - Um Bongo (1990s)