September 6, 2017
Bringing It Back: Why & How Nostalgia Marketing Works
By TJ DiFrancesco
Legos, Pokémon, choker necklaces, Colonel Sanders. The modern day marketing scene can seem like a montage of hits from the past. Increasingly, we’re seeing brands try to engage Millennial audiences by throwing it back in time. And judging by the success of some of these efforts, strolling down memory lane isn’t just pleasant, its profitable.
Reading even the most cursory analysis of the Millennial mind (and despite the generation’s outward distain for “labels”), there’s something a lot of researchers agree on. Millennials crave authenticity. They’re so used to being marketed to and immersed in content, they’ve become skeptical of anyone trying to sell them anything. Flooded with information, among busy work and social schedules, Millennials need a break from all the input and have the resources to debunk marketing claims and find the facts from their network of friends or the internet (the largest network of friends ever).
Initially, marketers tried to “fly below the radar” by creating content that seemed organic or user-generated—to masquerade their wolves as little lambs. This worked for a time. But, as they do, marketers discovered a better way. Instead of masquerading their wolves as lambs, they started dressing them up as Lamb Chop. By including nostalgia in campaigns, marketers can give Millennials a break from their high-alert skepticism, letting them bask in good memories.
Why does this work? It’s about making an emotional connection. By cuing in to actual fond memories, brands seem more authentic and relatable, the nostalgic object becomes a shared interest, a common reference that is credible and fun, the sweet spot for reaching this audience. The brand becomes associated with the good memory, allowing Millennials the chance to not only look back, but also the chance to create new memories by sharing their “oh, man do you remember…” with friends.
Sounds easy, right? But this tactic has its pitfalls. If a brand just tacks a memory onto its product, Millennials can see the disconnect between the product and the memory. The product has to be relevant as well. When marketers tried to bring back Twinkies, they gambled. Millennials are health conscious. The nostalgic product didn’t jive with their current worldview. The snack cakes that have the purported ability to survive an apocalypse survived the shutdown, but the odds they’ll survive a second are slim.
The truly successful nostalgia marketing campaign doesn’t just bring us back, it complements the present. Using Pokémon to give users a guide through a brand new technology, the interactive “real world” of Pokémon Go, used old experiences to create pleasurable new ones.
This is a difficult needle to thread, but when it’s done well, the result is staggering. As I’m gearing up for the new season of “Stranger Things” with its backwards-looking aesthetic, I’m reminded of all kinds of things from the past, but see them with a new resonance. History doesn’t really repeat itself, but it often rhymes, or so an approximation of the saying goes. And though this trend is effective, it won’t always be so. What comes after nostalgia? I’m sure we’ll find out.