Nostalgia marketing

For Old Times’ Sake

Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

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To the delight of some and the chagrin of others, TV viewers will soon be treated to reboots of “Twin Peaks,” “Will & Grace” and “Roseanne,” a trio of shows that enjoyed their heydays 20 years or so ago. Yes, nostalgia is back.

And manufacturers and marketers are following suit. From turntables and vinyl records, flip-phones and Oreos with “fireworks” (basically Pop Rocks), companies are tapping into consumers’ craving for the familiar. Why now?

According to research, people lean in to nostalgia when they’re feeling anxious about the present, and about the future. The past is safe, it was familiar, and what we see in the rear-view mirror tends to be rosy, whether that was the reality or not. We fill our rooms with mid-century modern, our pantries with Twinkies, and our tables with deviled eggs.

What are some considerations when tapping into nostalgia?

  • Nostalgia should be an entry point, not an end point. Leveraged correctly, nostalgia is an anchor to the past that grabs attention quickly due to its familiarity, but with a modern overlay. Think the VW New Beetle, introduced in the late ‘90s with a design that drew heavy inspiration from the original Beetle from the earlier part of the century. Think, too, the rebooted TV shows, which presumably will embody a more current take on characters that viewers came to know well during the first incarnation of their respective series.
  • Nostalgia is different for each generation. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, the return of the iconic flip phone will likely resonate with Boomers, but for later generations, this might be an entirely new product that they haven’t seen before. Similarly, in our multicultural society, some retro-inspired products will have little meaning beyond the traditional core group to which they were initially marketed.
  • Nostalgia plays well on social media. While the overall notion of nostalgia correlates to traditional media, some brands are melding old and new media to strengthen consumer engagement. With the popular #TBT (Throwback Thursday) hashtag, auto makers Dodge and BMW have had success attracting eyeballs with photos of classic cars from their lineups through the decades.
  • Nostalgia won’t save a brand. Remember Radio Shack’s 2014 Super Bowl ad featuring pop culture icons from the 1980s? It was lauded as one of the best ads that year, but where is Radio Shack now? More recently, the 1990s hit Pokemon made a resurgence by adding augmented reality and creating Pokemon GO!, which burst onto today’s pop culture scene. But it’s rapid rise was matched by an equally rapid decline.

Like all good programs, a campaign rooted in nostalgia needs to be timely and relevant in order to be effective. So while the future of marketing might not be tethered to the past, a well-timed and carefully executed stroll down memory lane might bring a smile to consumers’ faces and stronger engagement to your brand. (But please, let’s leave parachute pants in the past!)

 

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