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That feeling when a song comes on the radio and you’re taken right back to riding your bike around the cul-de-sac a million times with your friends or sitting in a hot car stuck in beach traffic. That jingle that reminds you of school mornings when you had to be pried from your cartoons. The Olympics commercial that makes you call your mom, because you can’t shake the happy/sad vibes. Nostalgia is a powerful device.
The complicated emotions that nostalgia conjures, usually with the hindsight of adulthood, are particularly useful in marketing and branding. By aligning heightened emotions with marketing messaging, lasting and effective impressions are possible. In some cases, the impressions persist for a lifetime, but using nostalgic feelings to capture a moment can be equally effective in the here and now.
Brands Capture Nostalgic Feelings With Throwback Campaigns
According to the study Nostalgia: Past, Present, and Future, “Nostalgia may facilitate use of positive perceptions about the past to bolster a sense of continuity and meaning in one’s life. An additional function of nostalgia may be its motivating potential.” For brands that want to generate happy feelings or create emotional connection for their product, it makes sense to conjure a sense of nostalgia.
For example, memories that evoke the childhoods and teen years of Generation Xers and Millennials have recently been trending. Brands and campaigns that have embraced this marketing approach include:
KFC: Never a brand to shy away from a fun marketing campaign or from trying to capture the zeitgeist, KFC celebrated nineties asymmetrical bowl cuts to launch their $3 Famous bowls in 2019. Get a bowl cut, get a free KFC bowl of goodness. Hipsters everywhere likely rejoiced at the chance to celebrate bad hair and get free food.
New Balance: An out of home (OOH) campaign in 2018 by New Balance and Foot Locker included a pop-up store celebrating many iconic nineties trends and cultural moments, from koosh balls to Blockbuster and paint-splattered clothing. The brand even hired actors to play iconic celebrities from the nineties, including legendary Nickelodeon host Marc Summers. The event was popular with influencers, who jumped right into the various “vintage” photo booths.
Domino’s: Rebooted TV shows (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, 90210) and huge Netflix deals for classic nineties sitcoms (Friends) are resonating with old fans while garnering new viewers. Domino’s 2017 commercial modeled after Ferris Bueller’s antics was counting on that Gen X affection for their pop culture heroes. The spot featured Joe Keery from Stranger Things (naturally) recreating Ferris’s famous last-ditch run, but this time it was to meet his pizza delivery guy. A cameo by Cameron completed the nostalgia-fest.
Generating Happy Memories Can Increase Sales And Brand Loyalty
A study by the Journal of Consumer Research, Nostalgia Weakens the Desire for Money, looked at why nostalgia is a trigger for consumers and found that consumers asked to think about their pasts were open to spending more money than those who reflected on current or future memories. Another aspect of the study illustrated that people were more willing to “give more money (but not time) to others after recalling, reflecting, or writing about a nostalgic past life event.”
The data gathered from this study is relevant for brands looking to move products or boost donations — which can begin with the connections nostalgia offers. For new brands, tapping into nostalgia can invite happy or familiar feelings for a product they were previously unfamiliar with, and may bridge the gap between old and new consumers, or appeal to younger generations. Similarly, if consumers are reminded of their own histories with brands, they may be more likely to buy those products because of prior loyalties or affection for the products.