Remember the Good Times, Marketing through Nostalgia

In today’s world we as consumers are bombarded with messages all day every day, from TV, to radio, to the internet. On top of all of the messages that companies are throwing at us, there are also the messages we receive from our peers, these we interact with through social media; we retweet this or “like” that, if we really care we may even leave a comment.  Our attention is so scattered that it makes it difficult for a small startup company to engage us; it needs to slip and slide its way through all the other distractions that are fighting for our attention. That is why as a start up, marketing plays a vital role in your success. Let us first define what marketing is since so many still believe that marketing is just about advertising, the latest definition of marketing as per the American Marketing Association is

“the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

That is basically a fancy way of saying that marketing is an integral part of everything you do in your business, from how you design your product to how you communicate with your customers. Marketing is not only about advertising; Having said that, today I wanted to discuss a concept called Nostalgia marketing, just because I find it very interesting and very relevant to the times.


What is Nostalgia Marketing?

Nostalgia marketing is marketing that is aimed at evoking a feeling of nostalgia in your customers. Nostalgia is

“a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.”

And it can be triggered by all the senses. Whether it is a smell that reminds you of the cookies your mom used to bake, a song you danced to in high school, the taste of the ice cream you used to eat as a child, or a clip of a movie you used to watch in college. Even touch can evoke nostalgia (it is one of the reasons grownups still enjoy popping bubble wrap). Through various studies scientists have found that there are two types of memories that are often associated with nostalgia: social interactions such as family gatherings or playing catch at school and momentous life events such as graduations and weddings. These are the memories our minds are drawn to when the feeling of nostalgia is evoked.


Why is it important?

The reason that nostalgia is now being considered as an important emotion by marketers is because it makes us happy. In times or recession or instability nostalgia is even more effective, this is because when people are feeling down about their situation now nothing makes them feel better than remembering the happier times in the past, our minds as human beings are hard wired to work that way. As Martin Lindstrom mentioned in his book Buy-ology ”in the face of insecurity or uncertainty about the future, we want nothing more than to revert to a more stable time” It is much more comforting to think of times when we had less responsibility and things were simpler rather than pondering the issues we are facing today. That is why in times of recession we notice more older retro products being brought back (the Fiat 500 for example), more songs tend to incorporate tunes or lyrics from older songs, company advertisements will focus on the past to the extent that some companies will even bring back advertisements that they used decades ago. All of this is supposed to target consumers who are now burdened by long working hours, paying bills, or taking care of children and remind them of the days when they didn’t have to worry about such things. By framing their products or services in this context, companies link themselves with happier times in the minds of consumers, making a sale that much easier.

The old and new Fiat 500

The old and new Fiat 500

What to consider?

When using nostalgia marketing you need to know who your target market is because 20 year olds are going to be nostalgic about very different things that 40 year olds. Depending on what senses you are targeting and whether you are using nostalgia marketing in your advertising, in your product design or maybe even in your supply chain the methods are different. Remember it does not have to be something obvious such as a TV show, music or food; it can be a lot more subtle such as a font or a color. You also want to make sure that what you are doing is old enough to be retro and bring about nostalgia, if it isn’t old enough it will not trigger those desired emotions and people may just see you as outdated.


Keep in mind it is possible for nostalgia to backfire if done incorrectly. If you take something that people cherish and have fond memories of and change it in a way people do not like, it can cause them to turn on you because you tainted something that was special to them. An example that shows how people can have emotional connections with products is KDD Ice Cream. When they changed their old ice cream names and packaging and reintroduced them as Blitz the backlash was huge. Social media blew up with complaints about how much everyone wanted their old ice cream names and packaging back. Just like nostalgia marketing can be very effective in times of uncertainty; it is also a very bad idea to change a product or service that people are attached to and comfortable with.

The New Blitz Ice Cream Ad

The New Blitz Ice Cream Ad


Examples of Nostalgia Marketing:

Some examples of nostalgia marketing campaigns that are done well are:

“Pepsi Throwback Atari Arcade” this was an online campaign where people would play classic Atari games online for the chance to win prizes such as an Atari system. Now in this ad we see the classic Pepsi can, we see the Atari logo and the campaign is about making people play classic games that they used to play when they were kids.

Pepsi Throwback Atari Arcade Campaign

Pepsi Throwback Atari Arcade Campaign

The below Facebook print ad is retro in every way from the images to the fonts and colors used. This ad was not only about nostalgia but about contrast as well, since the written message is about modern communication.

Facebook Ad

Facebook Print Ad


Some video commercials that use nostalgia are McDonald’s “Feed your Inner Child” marketing campaign which is all about escaping the dull reality of now and connecting with your inner child. Then there is LinkedIn which uses nostalgia marketing in a more subtle way creating an advertisement in the same style as the old training videos of the 70’s.

The above are examples of nostalgia used in marketing, but remember that nostalgia is all about the experiences of your consumers, things that may make a 30 year old in the US nostalgic may have no effect whatsoever in Kuwait because they are not relevant to the experiences of people here.

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  1. mijbel

     /  January 4, 2013

    You see a lot of similar themes in movies and culture as well, such as coming out with a new A-Team or Hawaii 5-0. In the marketing context, it’s effective (and cheap) when done properly.

    Kudos on a very interesting post.

  2. Great post Mshary, thanks 🙂

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  1. “New-stalgia”–Sharpening Up the Ol’ Cutting-Edge | ericminorimc

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