Maybe it hits you when you smell chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven or the briny scent of the sea. Maybe it’s stirred up by the sight of a crinkled deck of cards or a cluster of dandelions. The power of nostalgia is infinite.
Nostalgia awakens our youth and our joy in a bittersweet bout of simultaneous fond recollection and melancholic yearning. In that longing for what once was is a golden marketing opportunity. If you can harness nostalgia in your ads, you can appeal to customers’ sentimental sides, reminding them of the “good old days.”
Our collective obsession with the “good old days“
When the present is lackluster or anxiety-inducing, we tend to look forward and backward. Nostalgia is embedded in the latter, otherwise known as the “good old days.” In hindsight, we might see our past through rose-colored glasses, focused on the blissful, simple moments. Who doesn’t occasionally (or often) miss when they were young and not encumbered by responsibilities? When our only job was to be curious and learn?
We put our past on a pedestal. How many times do you say “remember when…” “I used to…” or “I miss…” in a day?
For me, a week doesn’t go by without a mention of “way back when” and a deep dive into a memory. Pogo sticks and penny candy. Hearing the sound of an ice cream truck after soccer games and the babbling brook by my grandparents’ house. Game nights on dorm room floors and homework on the green. With every year that passes, we add to our bottomless reserve of nostalgia-worthy moments.
Revival of the past
We’ve been seeing the trend to revive or revisit the past for decades.
At the start of the pandemic, drive-ins made a glorious comeback, often showing movies from the last century. Networks are pushing out remakes of beloved series seemingly by the hour. Vinyl records and jukeboxes are regaining popularity. People are even using film and polaroid cameras again, choosing nostalgia over quality. There is an inexplicable charm in what is old-fashioned.
iPhones generate photo albums of old pictures to spur reminiscence. Similarly, Facebook notifies its users with memories of posts and creates celebratory videos when friendship milestones are hit, so users can look back on the relationship as manifested online.
This trend to revive the past extends to fashion, too. Going retro is in. Beaded necklaces, bucket hats, scrunchies, baggy jeans…what is old becomes new again.
On YouTube, content creators are making videos reacting to their childhood TV shows. On Buzzfeed, writers are utilizing nostalgia with quizzes like “All ’90s Babies Will Remember These 25 Nostalgic Foods.” As the target audience for this piece, I can say with authority that seeing Scooby Snacks and Dippin’ Dots teleported me to my preteen years, and it was a sweet journey.
The Christmas season is inherently nostalgic, as it is steeped in tradition.
People dust off cherished family recipes; rewatch classics, ranging from black-and-white films to outdated animated ones; sing timeless carols; and decorate their spruce with precious ornaments that may well have hung on an ancestor’s tree.
One’s childlike wonder is resurrected. ‘Tis the season to be jolly and generous. Marketers need to capitalize on that generosity, leading with nostalgia.
Aldi’s 2021 holidays commercial invites nostalgia in by casting a familiar group of characters to advertise their grocery store…with a twist.
Dickens’ 19th century bestseller, A Christmas Carol, is revamped to feature produce, Ebenezer Scrooge becoming Ebanana, a curmudgeonly fruit, flown around by the spirit of Christmas—a bearded carrot wielding an old-fashioned lantern.
Anyone who read A Christmas Carol as a kid or watched a production of it is served up a heaping plate of nostalgia, which activates the reward centers of the brain, releasing dopamine. To put it plainly, it feels good. What better way to acquire new customers than lifting their spirits?
General nostalgia marketing examples
Your use of nostalgia doesn’t have to be heavy-handed or ultra sentimental as with the Christmas example.
Coca-Cola is a champion of nostalgia marketing. In 2018, Coca-Cola released a campaign featuring the silhouette of Elvis, highlighting how their product is consistent. One can imagine their grandparents drinking the same coke they’re drinking, or Elvis himself. It breeds familiarity, comfort, and most importantly, brand loyalty.
Three Full House stars reunited for an Oikos yogurt ad from 2014. The comedic ad sparks memories of watching the popular sitcom, thereby sparking nostalgia and harnessing its power.
Another example of evoking nostalgia through well-known pop culture references is a 2021 Mountain Dew commercial that brought in some of the cast of Gremlins for a quirky promotion of their zero sugar sodas. Reading through the comments on the ad, it’s clear that fans of Gremlins take a pleasant trip down memory lane upon viewing, recalling its anticipated release in the 80s.
Leveraging nostalgia captivates customers in a wistful world where everyone’s looking over their shoulders.
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