Nostalgia Marketing: Using Childhood Memories to Sell

nostalgia marketing

What do you feel when you see anything related to your childhood? Nostalgia is a powerful feeling capable of transporting us back to cherished moments from our past with a mere smell, sound, or image. It evokes a sense of sentimentality, tapping into our emotions that make us long for our younger days. This is why many brands, whether big or small, are using blasts from the past in their campaigns and seeing great results from what we know as nostalgia marketing.

Aligning nostalgic emotion with marketing isn’t new. Still, it’s more prevalent nowadays because it’s proven successful in a way that few other marketing techniques have, especially among millennials, who are currently the most powerful spending generation. Another event that gave nostalgia a big boost was the pandemic, making people return to their most beloved TV shows, music and other pieces of media to find comfort and cope with the fear and stress of being in lockdown (I’m sure none of us will remember this time fondly in the future though.)

Whether it’s reminiscing about childhood toys, certain places, iconic TV shows, music, videogames or beloved brands, nostalgia uniquely can forge deep connections and foster brand loyalty.

We’re going to explore the phenomenon of nostalgia marketing, from its psychological background to the elements that make this tactic so successful. We’ll also provide some examples of how brands merged nostalgia with a good product that connected them with their customers on a deeper emotional level and some tips to help you implement this marketing strategy for your small business.

The Science Behind Nostalgia

Neuroscience can give us a good idea of what happens when we feel nostalgia. Research has found that this feeling triggers activity in several areas of our brain: 

  • The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making; 
  • The hippocampus that governs long-term memory and particularly episodic memories; 
  • The amygdala, involved in the formation and consolidation of emotional memories and the association of emotional significance with experiences; and 
  • The medial temporal lobes, which are involved in memory retrieval processes and integrating the information we receive from our senses, including visual, auditory, and olfactory, with our memories and emotion processing.

When we are nostalgic, all these areas of the brain are active simultaneously, allowing us to fall victim to rosy retrospection, a cognitive bias that makes us remember the past fondly and makes us feel that things in the “good old days” were better. 

Nostalgia hits especially hard in times of stress and uncertainty. It provides emotional comfort and reassurance and fosters a sense of continuity and identity by connecting individuals to their past selves and personal history. This is particularly important to understand the success of nostalgia marketing among Millennials today because this demographic tends to like seeing brands using old logos or other elements from past decades. 

Another point worth mentioning is that Millennials in several parts of the world were negatively impacted by the Great Recession of 2007-09, which stunted this generation’s growth in terms of employment, finances, and housing. This can give further insights into why Millennials are inclined to nostalgia and the effects of rosy retrospection.

Why Nostalgia Marketing Works?

If your target audience doesn’t include Millennials, that doesn’t mean you can’t use Nostalgia Marketing. Here’s why this marketing tactic is effective in reaching audiences at any life stage. 

  • Everyone has fond memories: Nostalgia evokes strong emotions and sentimental feelings associated with past experiences, memories, and socio-cultural touchstones, and that’s something every human can relate to. 
  • Comfort and Security: Nostalgia provides a sense of comfort, familiarity, and security in our uncertain world. By adding nostalgic elements to their campaigns, brands create a reassuring environment that resonates with consumers, making them feel understood and valued.
  • Escapism: We all need to flee from reality occasionally and forget about our problems for a bit. Nostalgic content allows people to escape from the stress and complexities of modern life by reminiscing about simpler times. Brands capitalize on this desire for escapism by transporting consumers to cherished moments from childhood or youth. 
  • Evoking Positive Associations: Nostalgia marketing capitalizes on people’s positive associations with the past, such as feelings of happiness, joy, and innocence. By linking these emotions to their products or services, brands can create a favourable impression, influencing consumer behaviour.
  • Authenticity and Trust: Nostalgia is often associated with authenticity and tradition. By aligning themselves with familiar and beloved aspects of the past, brands can enhance their credibility and build loyalty and trust with consumers who value authenticity in their purchasing decisions.

Notorious Examples of Nostalgia Marketing

Now that we’ve covered all the basics of why nostalgic marketing campaigns are so well-received by the public, let’s discuss some of the most remarkable blasts from the past brands have given us.

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola is a brand deeply ingrained in the general public’s minds, and they know how to capitalize on it. Among their most iconic campaigns are their Christmas ads featuring Santa Claus. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not (or, like me, don’t drink Coca-Cola), most of us have grown up seeing Coca-Cola’s Santas and have learned to associate it with happier, simpler times and the end-of-year festive spirit.

Image Source

Santa’s figure is so attached to Coca-Cola that many believe the company invented the character. To reply to this common misconception, Coca-Cola states on its website that even though it didn’t invent the legend of Santa Claus, its ads contributed greatly to shaping how this Holiday icon is known worldwide. And I couldn’t agree more.

Nintendo

Many 80s and 90s kids grew up playing video games with their siblings and also grew apart because life led them in opposite directions. Nintendo targeted these audiences brilliantly by making an ad telling the story of two estranged brothers who used to be close as children, now reunited as adults to play video games with the new Nintendo Switch like they used to.

This commercial not only makes people remember what it is like to grow up with siblings but also makes them long for simpler times when their only worry was beating their siblings or friends playing Mario Kart, Super Mario Bros, or any of the many beloved video games Nintendo has released over the decades. 

Microsoft

In 2013, Microsoft released a commercial to promote Internet Explorer, trying to reconnect with the many 90s kids who had their first contact with the Internet using this browser. The ad is a walk down memory lane that features many things that 90s kids grew up with: from Tamagotchis and Hungry Hungry Hippos to bowl haircuts and light-up shoes.

Although Internet Explorer no longer exists, this ad is still a great example of using representative elements from the past to appeal to both older and younger generations.

ColourPop

The cosmetics company has been releasing makeup collections collaborating with popular franchises from the past, such as Sailor Moon, Naruto, Harry Potter, Star Wars, the Disney Princesses, Winx Club, and more recently, the cringey but dearly remembered Twilight. 

Colourpop

These collaborative collections have been very successful for the brand. The Twilight one sold out instantly when it was launched last January, sold out again after restocking in February, and many items were sold out when I wrote this blog. People still love those sparkling vampires.

Taylor Swift

I don’t listen to her music, but I recognize that Taylor is a talented musician and a marketing and business mastermind. The singer has been re-releasing her first six albums since 2021 to regain control over her music and capitalize from it by throwing back her fans to their childhood and teenage memories and making them remember what they were going through while listening to her songs during those years. 

Taylor Swift’s album re-releases also promoted her successful “The Eras Tour” by reminiscing about the different musical stages the singer has gone through in her career. (Image Source)

In her “Taylor’s Version” albums, Swift has also included unreleased tracks, and the project was extremely well-received by long-term fans and the general public. All of the albums debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, surpassing the sales of the previous versions and gaining billions of streams on Spotify.

Tips for Using Nostalgia Marketing Effectively 

If you want to take advantage of the power of memories and reach your audience with nostalgic marketing campaigns, here are a few tips to help you get started: 

  1. Understand your audience: If you don’t deeply understand what moves and touches your audience’s feelings, this strategy won’t work. Research your target demographic to identify the time periods, cultural references, and trends that resonate strongly with them. What era do they associate with their childhood or formative years? Understanding this will help you tailor your nostalgic content to their preferences.
  1. Tap into shared experiences: Look for universal experiences or cultural touchstones that many people can relate to, such as iconic toys, TV shows, music, or fashion trends. These shared experiences are more likely to trigger nostalgic emotions and create a sense of connection with your brand. 
  1. Be authentic: Authenticity is key when using nostalgia marketing. Avoid coming across as gimmicky or insincere. Instead, focus on genuine connections to the past that align with your brand values and resonate with your audience.
  1. Create compelling content: Develop creative campaigns, ads, and content that leverage nostalgic themes in engaging ways. This could include incorporating retro imagery and vintage design elements, including the typical jargon used during that period in your copy or symbolic references to popular culture from the past.
  1. Tell a story: Nostalgia is closely tied to storytelling. Use narratives that evoke nostalgia and resonate with your audience’s memories and emotions. Personal anecdotes or testimonials can be particularly compelling in creating a sense of shared experience.
  1. Modernize nostalgia: While nostalgia is about looking back, it’s essential to present it in a fresh and relevant way to today’s audience. Blend elements of the past with modern twists to create a nostalgic yet contemporary appeal.
  1. Create limited editions or throwback products: This approach to nostalgia marketing is one of the most popular ways to implement this tactic. Introduce limited-edition products or re-release popular items from the past to capitalize on nostalgia-driven purchasing behaviour. This can give a sense of exclusivity and urgency among consumers. 
  1. Analyze and adapt: Use analytics and feedback to measure the effectiveness of your nostalgia marketing efforts. Depending on your business niche and your goals, you can track engagement, sentiment, and sales metrics to evaluate performance and refine your strategy over time.

Rekindle the Past to Sell Today

Nostalgia marketing offers a myriad of possibilities to connect with your audience in a deeper, more significant way. Whether you want to introduce a new product or revamp an older one, small businesses can capture their customers’ longing for their memories and iconic pop culture milestones by producing content evoking the younger, less complicated days and bringing attention to their offer in an authentic, positive light.