Nostalgia Marketing: The Past is the Future

Nostalgia marketing

In an era where it can feel like everyone is rushing to find what’s new and what’s next, it’s good to remember that there’s wisdom in looking back at what has come before. To judge by the wave of recent marketing campaigns agrees, what’s old is new again: The Beatles are selling Beetles, Jefferson Airplane is cruising the high seas, and Geico ads are reminiscing about the good old days of other Geico ads. It’s not just ads that are taking a trip in a time machine, for those of us in experiential marketing, you’ve probably seen an Airstream at almost every recent activation. Nostalgia marketing is having a moment.

Retro isn’t just the flavor of the day: nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool when applied strategically. One recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that nostalgia can not only drive sales, it can do so even when people are less eager to spend. But you can’t just slap a Brady Bunch motif onto your next trade show booth and expect new clients to roll in — a well-crafted nostalgia marketing campaign takes planning.

Stay on Target

There’s a reason we spend so much time talking about generations in marketing: we can see quite clearly that different generations respond to different messages. “Know your audience,” is Marketing 101, but for nostalgia marketing, this can mean the difference between hitting the sweet spot for one age group and alienating another.

For brands that are already targeting a specific age group, it’s easier to navigate this challenge. For brands that want to appeal across multiple generations, your use of nostalgia has to be thoughtfully targeted and take into account how different generations will respond. Remakes of older movies have mastered a balanced approach: appeal to a new generation of viewers, while giving older viewers the inside jokes and references that harken back to their earlier experiences.

Celebrity Cruises’ sleek take on Alice in Wonderland on a ship, featuring Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” finds its target well. A young mother bounces around the ship on a wild adventure, including cocktails, acrobats, and an excellent cocktail served by a handsome hipster bartender. She awakens on deck to the smile of Captain Kate McCue, the first female captain of a mega-cruise ship. The Boomer-targeted soundtrack belies a hip, sleek and young campaign appealing to all adult ages.

Make it Inclusive

Even if you’ve dialed in your generational targeting, context matters. Global brands are perceived differently around the world. One person’s — or country’s — Golden Age might be an era of struggle for another. When you’re developing a campaign that carries your audience back to a time gone by, you have to make sure that you bring everyone along for the ride.

“Different is beautiful,” declares Coca-Cola’s “A Coke is a Coke” campaign from the 2019 Super Bowl. Coca-Cola knows their audience well: It’s everyone. The animated video uses retro stylings and evokes multiple well-known Coke ads from earlier eras, including their famous hilltop ode to diversity, the “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad from 1971. It’s their way of showing that inclusivity is something their brand embraces now, and always has.

In the end, nostalgia marketing works best when it is both targeted and inclusive, balancing social awareness of the present with positive emotions from the past. And if any of the campaigns above made you feel a little misty, they clearly hit the mark.

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