Nostalgia and Why It Works

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February 19, 2021
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Nostalgia and Why It Works

In one of the greatest scenes in television history, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) from the hit series “Mad Men” was tasked with delivering a pitch to Kodak. 



Kodak was launching a new (now ancient) slide projector and they needed help with the branding from Draper’s agency. Kodak was firm on naming their product “the wheel”, simply because it was shaped as such and the slides went around in a circle. They shared their concerns with Don about how wheels aren’t new technology so it may be an obstacle for the product’s branding. 


But Don saw a rare opportunity to change their perspective on marketing by talking about nostalgia.


“Well, technology is a glittering lure. But, there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.


My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old-pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new. It creates an itch. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.


Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound”. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine.


It goes backwards, forwards, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”


Don brilliantly pointed out that nostalgia is a brilliant marketing tactic for product branding.


So what is nostalgia marketing?


Believe it or not, nostalgia marketing is everywhere. Turn on the TV or visit YouTube and chances are you’ll come across an ad featuring an actor from a show you use to watch as a kid. Open up Spotify and you may hear an artist sampling a classic beat or song. Go to a grocery store and you’ll probably see a product that uses a label with a classic font and styling, reminding you of simpler times — though there aren’t too many left.


Nostalgia can have an extremely powerful emotional hold on any audience. 


Researchers from the University of Southampton found that nostalgia can actually be good for you, claiming that nostalgia can “counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety” encourage positive emotions. 


In 2011, General Mills partnered with Target to introduce retro cereal boxes in their stores. The cereal company released limited-edition box designs for some of their most iconic cereals, recreating the original packaging from the years they were released. 


The plan not only showed how deeply the brands connect consumers across all generations but also gives today’s parents the opportunity to share memories from their own childhoods with their kids. 


Not surprisingly, their sales doubled over the first year.


Nearly everyone gets nostalgic.


Since most people have memories, most people experience nostalgic feelings.


9 out of 10 people admit to thinking fondly about the past at least occasionally, with 47% saying they do so almost always or quite often. While people get slightly more likely to do it as they get older, more millennials say they reminisce about the past ‘almost always’ than older age groups do.


Closing thoughts


People always want to think about better days…especially these days.


That’s why nostalgia is the perfect marketing tactic for the 2020’s.


People are more likely to respond favorably to advertisements if it triggers an emotional response. With nostalgia incorporated into your campaign, your brand appears more down-to-earth and authentic to your audience, giving your ads more emotional favor.


The whole point of having a brand is to keep your audience engaged so you can sell more products or services, right?


The best way to do that? Be authentic. 


Authenticity is what we do.


Schedule a call with us today if your brand needs help becoming its authentic self!