Nostalgia Marketing: How Brands Use The Past To Connect With Consumers Today

How can brands cre­ate good nos­tal­gic cam­paigns that help peo­ple relive great child­hood mem­o­ries?

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Nos­tal­gia has become an increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar way for brands to con­nect with con­sumers as they tap into the past with beloved real-life fig­ures, mas­cots, taglines and prod­ucts, but incor­po­rate these ele­ments in new ways to con­nect with younger audi­ences as well. No mat­ter what the era, nos­tal­gia enables con­sumers to relive mem­o­ries and, if done cor­rect­ly, cre­ates pos­i­tive brand asso­ci­a­tions. But how effec­tive is it, real­ly? And why are so many brands turn­ing to it at this moment in time? And how can your brand ben­e­fit?

In the annals of adver­tis­ing his­to­ry, 2014 may very well be remem­bered as the Year of Nos­tal­gia.

Elec­tron­ics retail­er RadioShack kicked things off with a 30-sec­ond Super Bowl spot “meant to shed out­dat­ed per­cep­tions of the brand for con­sumers in need of a rein­tro­duc­tion” with ’80s icons like Hulk Hogan, Mary Lou Ret­ton, Kid ‘n’ Play and ALF.

We’re using the Super Bowl as the plat­form to get peo­ple to rethink RadioShack,” said Jen­nifer War­ren, senior vice pres­i­dent and chief mar­ket­ing offi­cer at RadioShack, in a state­ment. “This ad is meant to grab atten­tion, make view­ers laugh, and let peo­ple know, it’s out with the old and in with the new RadioShack.”

The move worked – at least in the short term. The brand was wide­ly tout­ed as one of the big win­ners of the 2014 Super Bowl, receiv­ing nods from out­lets like the Wall Street Jour­nal. In addi­tion, RadioShack stock went up 7 per­cent fol­low­ing the big game.

Auto man­u­fac­tur­er Hon­da, too, is incor­po­rat­ing toys and car­toon char­ac­ters like Stretch Arm­strong, Gum­by, Jem and The Holo­grams, Lit­tle Peo­ple, Mag­ic 8‑Ball, Skele­tor, Straw­ber­ry Short­cake, and G.I. Joe in its sea­son­al Hap­py Hon­da Days cam­paign, which includes six TV spots and “[pays] homage to pop­u­lar toys through­out var­i­ous decades,” the brand says, not­ing “the mag­ic of these beloved toys has been brought to life with stop-motion ani­ma­tion rather than com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed imagery to authen­ti­cal­ly cap­ture how these toys came to life through play.”

With con­sumers inun­dat­ed with hol­i­day ads dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son, our goal is to break through the clut­ter by help­ing peo­ple relive favorite child­hood mem­o­ries of a toy they loved dur­ing the hol­i­days and asso­ci­at­ing that with a great deal on a new Hon­da,” said Susie Rossick, senior man­ag­er at Hon­da.

And, for its part, quick ser­vice chain Wendy’s has tapped a num­ber of nos­tal­gic musi­cal favorites in its #Pret­zelLoveSongs cam­paign, includ­ing R&B group Boyz II Men.

We know Mil­len­ni­als are pas­sion­ate about 90s nos­tal­gia, music and humor—and Boyz II Men deliv­ered on all three in its ren­di­tion of #Pret­zelLoveSongs,” said Wendy’s Chief Mar­ket­ing Offi­cer Craig Bah­n­er in a state­ment. “We part­nered with Boyz II Men because the group and its mem­bers are legends—and it looks like our Pret­zel Bun is becom­ing one, too.”

The brand has also worked with Latin artist Jon Seca­da in a pret­zel-bun-themed remix of his 1992 hit, “Just Anoth­er Day” and pop-star-turned-TV-per­son­al­i­ty Nick Lachey, as well as The Fresh Prince of Bell Air alum and recent Danc­ing with the Stars champ Alfon­so Ribeiro and the Karate Kid him­self, Ralph Mac­chio, on a more recent bar­be­cue cam­paign.

And then there’s insur­ance com­pa­ny Geico, which recent­ly enlist­ed hip hop trio Salt-N-Pepa to do a spin of its hit “Push It” in its lat­est ad.

Mean­while, oth­er brands are instead look­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on the nos­tal­gic val­ue of their own inter­nal assets.

Salt brand Mor­ton Salt, for exam­ple, saw 2014 as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to refresh its brand iden­ti­ty while cel­e­brat­ing its long-time Mor­ton Salt Girl mas­cot, who turned 100 this year. The refresh includes an updat­ed logo with a “fresh and friend­ly font,” includ­ing an R that “car­ries a slight kick to mim­ic the Mor­ton Salt Girl’s step,” and a Mor­ton Salt Girl with “clean­er, sim­pli­fied linework,” the brand says.

We con­stant­ly lis­ten to con­sumers to ensure that we con­tin­ue to meet their chang­ing needs,” said Chris­t­ian Her­rmann, Mor­ton Salt CEO, in a state­ment. “Through our lat­est mar­ket research, we know that the Mor­ton Salt Girl is syn­ony­mous with the brand and her time­less, clas­sic look still res­onates with con­sumers today. How­ev­er, we also knew there was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the brand look and feel more mod­ern and approach­able.”

Oth­er brands cel­e­brat­ing birth­days this year include Gen­er­al Mills cere­al Cin­na­mon Toast Crunch, which turned 30 and marked the occa­sion in part with a blog post chron­i­cling the evo­lu­tion of its Chef Wen­dell char­ac­ter, and cloth­ing retail­er Old Navy, which cel­e­brat­ed its 20th birth­day by ask­ing fans to sub­mit self­ies in its #Self­iebra­tion cam­paign.

Like Mor­ton Salt, cat food brand 9Lives sought to cap­i­tal­ize upon a well-known inter­nal asset and tapped dig­i­tal agency Evo­lu­tion Bureau to bring back its “icon­ic spokescat,” Mor­ris. Accord­ing to Evo­lu­tion Bureau, the brand “tasked us with doing it in a way that appealed to nos­tal­gic Mor­ris fans while intro­duc­ing the icon­ic orange cat to a new younger mil­len­ni­al audi­ence.”

Ergo, Evo­lu­tion Bureau says it cre­at­ed Cat’s Eye View, an inter­ac­tive video expe­ri­ence that lets fans guide Mor­ris with cus­tom wear­able tech­nol­o­gy. And, to increase engage­ment, Evo­lu­tion Bureau says it seed­ed the site with orig­i­nal 9Lives com­mer­cials.

Anoth­er cat food brand, Meow Mix, asked fans to remix its icon­ic jin­gle in the Its Meow Time cam­paign, spurring recre­ations by artists like Ash­worth, Hip­ster Orches­tra and J.R. Moore.

And Kellogg’s waf­fle brand Eggo report­ed­ly brought back its “L’Eggo my Eggo” tagline in a series of new spots.

And then there are nos­tal­gic prod­ucts in and of them­selves.

Retail­er Hot Top­ic recent­ly stocked Under­oos, the super­hero-themed children’s “under­wear that’s fun to wear” from the ‘70s, in adult sizes and sold out quick­ly.

In a tweet on Novem­ber 17, Hot Top­ic said, “More are on the way! Should be avail­able again in 2–3 weeks!”

And, in Sep­tem­ber, the Coca-Cola Com­pa­ny re-released its cit­rus soda Surge on Ama­zon, say­ing, “Fans thirsty for a taste of ‘90s nos­tal­gia – or those who are sim­ply crav­ing a cit­rus-fla­vored sparkling bev­er­age with a kick – can rejoice in the news that Surge is back after a 12-year hia­tus.”

Accord­ing to Coke, Surge is its first dis­con­tin­ued prod­uct to make a come­back “thanks, in part, to a pas­sion­ate and per­sis­tent com­mu­ni­ty of brand loy­al­ists who have been lob­by­ing The Coca-Cola Com­pa­ny to bring back their favorite drink over the last few years.”

It was first com­mer­cial­ly avail­able from 1996 to the ear­ly 2000s.

If expec­ta­tions are met, this may be only the first of a vari­ety of efforts we explore to launch niche prod­ucts through e‑commerce rela­tion­ships,” said Wendy Clark, pres­i­dent of sparkling and strate­gic mar­ket­ing for Coca-Cola North Amer­i­ca, in a blog post.

And then there’s footwear brand L.A. Gear, which says it plans to make “a tri­umphant return” in spring 2015 as it “kicks off its re-birth” with the release of its Orig­i­nals col­lec­tion. Not­ing it has worked with celebri­ties like Michael Jack­son, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Wayne Gret­zky, Belin­da Carlisle, Paula Abdul, and Joe Mon­tana, the brand says it is relaunch­ing with rap­per Tyga.

So why are so many brands turn­ing to nos­tal­gia to con­nect with con­sumers? And is it an effec­tive way to do it?

The Psychology of Nostalgia

In a report from inbound mar­ket­ing soft­ware plat­form Hub­Spot, con­tent strate­gist Erik Devaney explained that while nos­tal­gia may be trig­gered by neg­a­tive emo­tions like lone­li­ness, these mem­o­ries are gen­er­al­ly hap­py and nos­tal­gia can there­fore have psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits like enhanced mood, reduced stress, and increased self-esteem and feel­ings like life has mean­ing and pur­pose.

There­fore, if mar­keters can cre­ate con­tent that makes con­sumers feel nos­tal­gic, “it will also get them feel­ing good by exten­sion,” Devaney wrote. “And when it comes to grow­ing a loy­al fol­low­ing of folks who love your busi­ness, cre­at­ing con­tent that makes them feel good seems like a win­ning strat­e­gy.”

In addi­tion, per a BBC report, a series of inves­ti­ga­tions by psy­chol­o­gist Con­stan­tine Sedikides found nos­tal­gia “may act as a resource that we can draw on to con­nect to oth­er peo­ple and events, so that we can move for­ward with less fear and greater pur­pose.”

The Time is Right

For her part, email mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy con­sul­tant Jeanne Jen­nings notes the cur­rent polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic cli­mate is marked by some upheaval includ­ing shifts in pow­er after mid-term elec­tions and numer­ous chal­lenges on the inter­na­tion­al front, which may indi­cate con­sumers feel some­what unset­tled and the time is right for mar­keters to use nos­tal­gia.

And Kristin Kovn­er, pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing strate­gies firm K‑Squared Strate­gies, notes that while nos­tal­gia mar­ket­ing has his­tor­i­cal­ly been pop­u­lar when con­di­tions are uncer­tain and con­sumers long for the good old days, “today it seems mar­keters are using nos­tal­gia as a way to build authen­tic­i­ty and claim a real, long-time rela­tion­ship with con­sumers. In a way, nos­tal­gia mar­ket­ing is the nat­ur­al exten­sion of authen­tic­i­ty mar­ket­ing, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the hol­i­days.”

What’s more, Kovn­er notes nos­tal­gia mar­ket­ing is just start­ing to take hold for mil­len­ni­al mar­keters, since mil­len­ni­als are just reach­ing the age of becom­ing nos­tal­gic.

The pop­u­lar­i­ty of Throw­back Thurs­days, Buz­zFeed lis­ti­cles of ‘90s ref­er­ences, and the reemer­gence of ‘My Lit­tle Pony’ all show how this audi­ence is ready to look back and rev­el in the past – includ­ing the brands and brand mes­sages that shaped their child­hoods,” she said. “As this audi­ence starts hav­ing kids of their own, there’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reen­gage par­ents in order to build a rela­tion­ship with this next gen­er­a­tion.”

The Proof Is In The Pudding

And research seems to indi­cate nos­tal­gia is, in fact, an effec­tive mar­ket­ing tool.

Con­sumers are more like­ly to spend mon­ey when they are feel­ing nos­tal­gic, accord­ing to a study in the Jour­nal of Con­sumer Research. In fact, the authors con­duct­ed six exper­i­ments that found, in part, con­sumers asked to think about the past were will­ing to pay more for a set of prod­ucts than con­sumers who were asked to think about new or future mem­o­ries, and con­sumers had an increased will­ing­ness to give more mon­ey to oth­ers after recall­ing, reflect­ing, or writ­ing about a nos­tal­gic past life event.

We found that when peo­ple have high­er lev­els of social con­nect­ed­ness and feel that their wants and needs can be achieved through the help of oth­ers, their abil­i­ty to pri­or­i­tize and keep con­trol over their mon­ey becomes less press­ing,” the authors say in a release.

Plus, nos­tal­gia allows brands to quick­ly con­nect with their audi­ences when time is of the essence.

Giv­en that peo­ple are now con­sum­ing more and more of their media on mobile devices, it is get­ting much tougher for brands to con­nect with users in a mean­ing­ful way due to small screen sizes and capped video lengths of 15 sec­onds,” said Rob Gross­berg, CEO of mobile gam­ing com­pa­ny Tre­Sen­sa. “Nos­tal­gic mar­ket­ing cam­paigns are effec­tive because they are emi­nent­ly famil­iar and are, thus, able to grab a users’ atten­tion and quick­ly pull at their heart­strings.”

In addi­tion, Tes­sa Wegert, com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor at dig­i­tal agency Enlight­en, says nos­tal­gic cam­paigns are appeal­ing to brands because they increase the like­li­hood that ads will be shared online.

Con­sumers share things that incite an emo­tion­al response, and hap­pi­ness and amuse­ment are main dri­vers of that,” Wegert said. “When brands dig up beloved prod­ucts and mas­cots from the past they know it’ll res­onate with cus­tomers, and those cus­tomers are primed to share the joy with oth­ers.”

How Do Brands Create Good Nostalgic Campaigns?

1. Have A Good Reason For Turning To Nostalgia

There has to be “a sound rea­son for it that you can artic­u­late before going there – oth­er­wise it’s just a shot in the dark,” Jen­nings said. “You should make a case based on your tar­get audi­ence, macro fac­tors at play, per­ceived state of mind and what worked in sim­i­lar instances in the past.”

2. Make Sure The Memories Your Brand Evokes Are Positive, Well-Established

Coke, for exam­ple, prob­a­bly wouldn’t want to revive New Coke, Kovn­er said.

3. Incorporate A Knowing Tone

Per Kovn­er, this why Radio Shack’s Super Bowl spot was effec­tive: “It acknowl­edged how out of step the cur­rent brand had become in a light, tongue-in-cheek way,” she says.

4. Consider Rolling It Out During The Holidays

That’s when “con­sumers are already in a ‘nos­tal­gia’ mind­set, think­ing about fam­i­ly and tra­di­tion,” Kovn­er said.

5. Shake Things Up A Little

In a report from pro­gram­mat­ic adver­tis­ing and retar­get­ing firm Chango, Vice Pres­i­dent of Mar­ket­ing Ben Plomion rec­om­mends brands “take what’s old and make it new again for a dig­i­tal world” but add a unique twist to tap into con­sumer excite­ment tied to the feel­ing of, “I remem­ber those!” in a suc­cess­ful cam­paign with nos­tal­gia.

What do you think about the use of nos­tal­gia in mar­ket­ing? Is it always effec­tive? Or do brands rely on it too much?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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