Marketers know vintage clothes and retro art sell well. Now, consumer-product companies are hoping that appeal carries over to cereal, chips and laundry detergent.

Procter & Gamble Co., General Mills Inc., Hostess Brands Inc. and PepsiCo Inc. are pulling old package designs out of their archives for brands like Tide, Cheerios and Doritos and bringing them back to store shelves. Smaller companies and start-ups are using fonts, colors or designs that evoke the past on their labels.

The move is a U-turn from labels cluttered with specific claims like “easy pour spout” or “better tasting” to packaging that plays on the emotions. Over time, labels have gotten busier because computers allowed for complex designs and marketers wanted products to stand out on crowded shelves.

“We got to the point where you couldn’t add one more bling thing to a package,” says Christine Mau, director of design at Kimberly-ClarkCorp., the maker of Kleenex and Huggies, among other items.

The retro movement is driven, in part, by consumer-goods companies feeling pressure from retailers’ private-label products, which are generally less expensive. “Brands are saying, wait a minute, we invented that category,” so they are now reminding consumers which brand came first, says Steve McGowan, executive creative director at Landor Associates, a branding firm owned by WPP PLC that worked on the Tide and Downy retro designs.

Manufacturers also say they are hoping to benefit from consumers’ generally sunny impression of the past and stand out in a sea of modern, glossy packages.

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