Adelaide Day-Collett
Adelaide Day-Collett
March 23, 2021 . 2min read

We all know the feeling of nostalgia. It’s unmistakable. That feeling of familiarity that leaves us with that tingling, warm feeling that often stops us in our tracks. Nostalgia can be triggered by a multitude of things — people, places, smells. Given its strong emotional effect, it’s no surprise that marketers have been trying (some successfully and others not so much) to manufacture feelings of nostalgia in advertising for years and, with behavioural and psychological research continuing to prove the benefits, we thought it was worth taking a look ourselves.

So what exactly are the benefits of nostalgia in advertising and how have brands used it to shift the dial?

A 2015 European study in the Journal of Psychology and Marketing asked over 600 people to recall the brands they associate with good times in their life and tested each brand against several criteria such as ‘attachment to the brand’, ‘storytelling’ and ‘self-brand connections’. The study revealed (among several other interesting things we won’t recite here) that nostalgia had a positive effect on three key things: storytelling, consumer-brand relationships and intention to purchase.

So we know tapping into nostalgia can work. But make no mistake, it’s a hard thing to do well. According to Forbes, the key is the balance between sparking warmth (the old) while being a bit disruptive (the new).

Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen brands tap into nostalgia even more over the past 18 months, as people long to remember a time before masks and a global pandemic.

Take for example Nintendo’s Two Brothers ad promoting how memories of their gaming product could bring siblings back together in adulthood. Or Motorola who paid homage to its iconic 90s/early 2000s flip phone in its 2019 ad for its new model the Motorola Razr.

Other long-established brands, like Coca Cola, have taken to the archives of their vintage ads, like the 1979 “Mean: Joe Greene” ad, and re-released them to remind the world they are a part of cultural history. Ironically, these ads have resonated with audiences that weren’t even alive to experience them in their original form, proving that shared cultural memory can often transcend generations.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen brands tap into nostalgia even more over the past 18 months, as people long to remember a time before masks and a global pandemic. This became glaringly obvious with this year’s line-up of Superbowl ads, as brands sought to reference a better, funnier time – and all the experts lining up to bolstering the decision as the 'safest bet' to talk to consumers in the current climate.

Nothing demonstrates the point more than Cheetos' Superbowl ad with Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis that harked back to ‘That 70s Show’ while also featuring Shaggy’s 2000s hit ‘It wasn’t me’. Budweiser also went down memory lane, reuniting former ad characters in a single execution paired with an online content vault that showcased 12 of their ads from the past.

Long story short, lots of brands leverage nostalgia to build an emotional connection with consumers and use varying approaches to tell a compelling story. Here are some high-level thought-starters on how marketers might start (or continue) to leverage nostalgia:

Learn about your audience.
Research. Research. Research. In order to effectively tap into nostalgia, you have to know your audience, what they find special and what may evoke a fond memory or positive association.

Look inwards.
One way brands can utilise nostalgia is by tapping into their own history. Especially if your brand has an expansive history, there are often golden nuggets that can be surfaced in order to evoke nostalgia. This could be products, production processes, people or correlation to historical events.

Reinvent traditional mediums.
Traditional mediums have an innate sense of nostalgia, think print, catalogues and direct mail, and evidence suggests they work well alongside digital formats, as they allow your message to be repeatedly seen at a lower cost while still benefiting from the personalisation that comes with tangible formats.

Use visual references from yesteryear.
Incorporating colours, font and imagery that reference design trends from the past can be an immediate way to evoke nostalgia. However, only do it if it makes sense for the brand contextually and is an easy ‘get’ for your consumers.

Now… please excuse us while we dig out our nineties grunge outfits and listen to some C90 mixtapes.

Image credit: @lunarts

Adelaide Day-Collett

Adelaide Day-Collett

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