Nostalgia Marketing: The power of the ‘good old days’

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You must laugh at us older millennials.  We have turned into our parents with our turn-that-racket-down attitude to music and popular culture.  Didn’t we promise ourselves in our adolescent fits of rage that we would spare our kids this misery?  Well, they just don’t make stuff like they did back in the ‘good old days now do they?  Perhaps this is that mental space that nostalgia marketing tries to enter.

It seems that over the last couple of years, nostalgia has become a contagion reaching pandemic proportions.  Pokémon, Sonic the Hedgehog and even Commander Keen are all making a comeback in films and on gaming devices. 

Also, suddenly vinyl has suddenly become a thing again.

What is driving this apparent hankering for times gone by?  It hasn’t quite overtaken the mass interest in future advancements, but nostalgia marketing is proving to be rather effective at getting people to the checkout

Why is that?

Millennials remember the good old days

We all get a little emotional about the past

There is nothing more personal to a human than memories.  They are embedded deep beneath the eyes.  Like little mental fingerprints, they are as individual as the person reminiscing. 

However, external stimuli can trigger memories.  Like that song that reminds you of your first partner.  Or, those photographs you find when clearing out your room. All these little things you can’t part with, they are the keys that nostalgia marketing uses.

In some ways it isn’t surprising.  Millennials are the last generation that can remember a time before digital.  They straddle the timeline, when the digital age crashed in around them and changed the world with an insatiable appetite.  Any damage that was done from here was irreparable. 

The later generations have been born into social media and an expressway of information.  They have no concept of “calling on” friends.  Many would question why anyone would buy CDs when music is so easy to stream.  There is a frail grasp to a pre-existing non-digital age that tugs on the heart strings of the largest consumer demographic.

When products manipulate the memory, it is reaching the customer on an emotional level.  Tell me, who doesn’t want that?

Gen Z nostalgia

So, nostalgia marketing is all about millennials then?

Well no.

It makes sense to discuss nostalgia marketing in relation to the millennials, as they are currently the largest consumer group.  Some day that will change, and we will be marketing to the Gen Zs.  Imagine what they will be nostalgic for?

Justin Bieber, Snapchat, Fortnite.

Stop…it’s getting depressing.

What is quite interesting however, nostalgia marketing appeals to youngsters too.  It seems that these young pups are getting all nostalgic and weepy for a time that they didn’t live through.  It’s called fauxstalgia.

Nostalgia marketing Gen Z

Now you’re just making things up.

No matter how fake “fauxstalgia” sounds, it really is a marketing trend that we should be aware of.  Writer Kate Wolff succinctly describes fauxstalgia as “the yearning for a time in the past, even though you may never have experienced that time directly yourself”

This was a craze that at first struck me with incredulity. 

Primark made a killing on Bob Marley and Nirvana t-shirts.  They were floating around on every twelve to fourteen-year-old girl not long ago.  Ask them their five favourite nirvana tracks.  Beyond Smells like teen spirit they couldn’t really give you an answer.

It seems that even a youngster endures nostalgia for things gone by.  Possibly through their parents, or a sense of trying to seem world-wise.  Either way, nostalgia marketing is not lost on generations that are too young to have much cultural memory.

Marketing appropriates memory more and more.  Interestingly enough not everything has to have winged its way from the good old days. 

Are you ready for another cleverly constructed term?


facade and mimicry

Old skin draping new bones.

Laura Tarbox starts an interesting discussion about Newstalgia and Why There’s No Such Thing as the Throwback.  Her argument really centres around the idea that nostalgia marketing is “actually the best proof that culture is constantly seeking the new”?  It seems that newstalgia is a way of remixing the past into the contemporary culture.

Just like all that (so called) music that samples old tracks whilst over-producing it with cat-sick drums and hiccupping autotune.

Money for old rope as my dad would say.

But you can see what Laura Tarbox is talking about.

Unlike both fauxstalgia and nostalgia marketing, newstalgia seems to have less of an emotional impact.  Its impact is lessened by the new bones that old skin has been draped over.

Take those mobile phone and laptop cases that are made to look like ancient tomes or old Reader’s Digest books.  Nobody is getting doe-eyed over such façade and mimicry.  It is a reduction of a memory.

Fake good old days

Uh oh, where’s he going with this one?

Newstalgia is not a way of making people think back to a specific time in any way.  The previous example given, on one hand seems to be reclaiming the past as a form of decoration for modern technology.  On the other hand, we could take the cynical approach that people are appropriating the past to try and appear sophisticated or knowledgeable.

Whichever way you look at it, or what reason you prescribe to, it is obvious that newstalgia is attempting to recreate the past. 

Most newstalgia products and marketing is purely aesthetic.  The functionality is utterly twenty-first century.  It isn’t like releasing an Xbox One that works like a Commodore C64.  There is no recreation of the past here, just an allusion that doesn’t quite have the same emotional impact as the genuine article.

Catharsis and nostalgia marketing

Nostalgia marketing, catharsis and that final addendum

Nostalgia marketing is effective, of that there is no doubt.  Right now, as the younger generation has finally reached adulthood, the world is unrecognisable to the millennial.  What was, cannot be reclaimed except through these marketing allusions.

The problem with nostalgia, is that is does evoke powerful emotions.  It does force people back behind their eyes to stare in the middle distance.  It does turn your average millennial into the modern-day equivalent of Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses.  This powerful emotion however needs a release valve.

At the moment, the checkout is that catharsis.  Releasing the consumer from that daydream state is the ecommerce site, the bricks and mortar shop, or any vendor that you bought it off.  But there is a final addendum

If you are going to employ the nostalgia marketing tactics, you need to be sure of your product.  If your product doesn’t manage to recreate that sensation, or somehow doesn’t live up to its name, then you are going to have a problem.

Nostalgia Marketing Private Head Space

You see it’s all about trust

By evoking memories and emotions in a consumer, you are entering into their private head space.  This is the desirable place for any brand to be, however, earning that position within a consumer denotes trust. Their wistful adventures into the good old days is a powerful one, but to force an emotion in someone and not deliver will let them down in a big way.

By not honouring the silent promise you made to enter into the consumers emotional head space, you are likely to lose their trust.  With said loss of trust, you are likely to lose loyalty, and face a social media backlash.

Make sure your product is relevant before dipping into the private and personal pasts of your buyer personas.

Thew good old days and longevity

Wrapping up these good old days

Nostalgia marketing is an effective method.  Honestly, however, I am not sure of its longevity.

There does come a point when consumers become anaesthetised to certain prompts and emotional manipulation, and over time, we may find that nostalgia marketing becomes less and less effective.

Not only that, how the next generation experience the world is entirely different.  They have never known an analogue world.  Their nostalgia now is borrowed from the preceding generation, and as yet, there are more memories that are created digitally. The future generations reminiscing will be more digitally based than material or tangible.

Nostalgia marketing does have an interesting future though.  I suppose every generation has their good old days.

If you wish to add to this conversation, or give feedback in anyway, please leave a comment below.

2 Responses

    1. Guardians of the galaxy is a brilliant example, in fact, the movies at the moment do have this down. I am glad you enjoyed the article, and thank you for commenting.

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