Nostalgia Marketing – Making Emotional Connections

nostalgia (noun)

nos·​tal·​gia | \ nä-ˈstal-jə , nə- also nȯ-, nō-; nə-ˈstäl- \

1: the state of being homesick: HOMESICKNESS

2: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also: something that evokes nostalgia

The word nostalgia stems from a Greek compound nóstos, meaning “homecoming,” and álgos, meaning “pain” or “ache.” It was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home.

Nostalgia marketing is nothing new. Longing for simpler times and the comforts of home when everything felt safer and more secure is a natural human response. But after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, rapid change, and isolation from family and friends, consumer and marketer appetites for nostalgia are growing. Savvy marketers are answering the call with exciting nostalgia marketing campaigns and products that appeal to different audiences at a core level.

The Key to Nostalgia Marketing

  1. Understand what motivates your audience and break down elements by generation.
  2. Think about the ways society and events helped shape their world framework.
  3. Jumping off points include popular toys, ads, music, books, films, and other trends.
  4. Tie it all together with social media and channels that lend a modern twist.
  5. Smart retailers also use the power of smell to evoke nostalgia – cookies, bread, etc.

Brands That Use Nostalgia Marketing

In August 2020, Airbnb partnered with the last Blockbuster retail location in Bend, Oregon, for a limited promotion. The once-mighty movie rental giant was a staple of Friday nights in the 90s and evokes a long-gone time when movies were something you viewed in a theater. Those who missed the first-run movie would have to wait for the video release, which would eventually evolve to DVD. The last Blockbuster in the world was transformed to include a replica of a 90s living room, complete with a bulky big screen TV and a working VCR (one that nobody ever learned to program, no doubt). Small pods of 3-4 locals were invited to spend the ultimate Blockbuster night at the location to enjoy an old-fashioned movie marathon until dawn, complete with all the necessary snacks — all for $4 per night plus taxes and fees. Airbnb capped the offering with a donation to the Humane Society of Central Oregon. The living room display was kept as part of the store decor, so those who missed the chance to stay the night can still enjoy the splendor that was the 90s.

Social and political causes have also used the power of nostalgia marketing to raise funds. Two of the most popular methods have been cast reunions, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air gathering for the 30th anniversary of the iconic 90s show, and live table reads with the cast of classic movies such as The Princess Bride, Dazed and Confused, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the Christmas staple, Elf, and popular TV shows such as VEEP and Community.

McDonald’s often uses nostalgia marketing in its campaigns to spark engagement and longing for a simpler time from a range of customer demographics – see a concise example here. It turns out everyone loves a Happy Meal, no matter what their age.

Nostalgia Marketing Boosting the Bottom Line

Toy manufacturer Fisher-Price marked its 90th birthday in a smart and strategic way designed to appeal to the kid in all of us — a virtual toy museum organized by decades. Through its October 2020 pre-holiday nostalgia marketing campaign, Fisher-Price invited us all to take a stroll down memory lane. Through a visit to its virtual toy museum on Instagram, people of all ages could explore the more than 100 exhibits of Fisher-Price’s iconic nine decades of toys, no doubt sparking many memories of a simpler time when all we had to worry about was whether our Playskool Weebles wobbled and our Fisher-Price bubble mowers were fully charged with bubble juice. The cross-generational appeal of the iconic toys helped spur holiday sales bonanza, resulting in a 10 percent increase in sales for 2020. That’s emotional connection marketing at its finest.

The Rise of False Nostalgia Marketing

One thing to avoid when undertaking a nostalgia marketing campaign––false nostalgia. This particular subset of the genre seizes on the human tendency to romanticize years gone by, much like the mythical time when everything seemed great and there were no problems to be seen. The sensory input sparks a feeling of nostalgia for a time one may never have ever experienced or people they’ve never met. Recently, the My Heritage site went viral for its “Deep Nostalgia technology which uses the power of AI and image manipulation to bring old photos to life and deepen family connections. Many found the application magical as long-dead relatives moved in seemingly natural ways. Colorization for black and white photos added another layer of “reality” to the formerly still photos. Many people were moved to tears, and others found it quite disturbing even as they were drawn to it — that’s false nostalgia. It’s also just the beginning of the possibilities in deep fakes, which marketers should choose to avoid, as it could easily backfire and attract attention for all the wrong reasons.

Overall, research shows nostalgia marketing makes consumers far more willing to spend and feel less attached to money overall. Savvy brands take note! Nostalgia marketing will be around for a long time to come. Wondering if nostalgia marketing is the right approach for your brand in 2021 or beyond? Get in touch with our team.