The rise of nostalgia marketing

The rise of nostalgia marketing

Admit it. You couldn’t help but grin when the guys from hit 90s TV show “Full House” were reunited in Dannon’s Oikos yogurt commercial during the 2014 Super Bowl.

Seeing Danny, Joey and Uncle Jesse together again gave you the warm fuzzies, and you smiled all the way through the ad. Meanwhile, yogurt seller Oikos is laughing all the way to the bank.

Congratulations, you’ve just confirmed the utility of nostalgia marketing.

Whether it’s a cameo by a celebrity who hasn’t had a hit since the 1990s—looking at you, Sisqo—or a throwback to a trend that’s been around longer than Justin Timberlake’s had facial hair, nostalgia marketing is proving to be a potent and creative way to reach potential customers, especially Millennials, who are just aging far enough away from their childhoods to feel nostalgic. 

Here’s a primer on why, how and when nostalgia marketing is being used. 

Nostalgia Marketing Defined

Nostalgia marketing relies on feelings of delight and familiarity to lure us to a happy place, where our defenses are down and suddenly we’re smiling right along with Vanilla Ice as he tries to convince us to buy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-shaped mac ‘n cheese. The more unexpected the harbinger of nostalgia, the better.

For instance, you may not have thought about the aforementioned Sisqo’s one-hit wonder, “The Thong Song,” in 15 years. But the moment Spotify uses a subtle hint to get you to you listen to it—“This song was popular when you were a teenager”—you’re suddenly transported back to the summer you got your driver’s license, when “Thong Song” was all over the radio and you and your friends blasted it as you rode to the beach. You’re feeling cheerful and relaxed, and Spotify benefits, because you’ll probably listen to 15 more songs now. 

3 Reasons Nostalgia Marketing Works

With nostalgia marketing booming, there’s obviously a reason for it. Here are three reasons this is a hot idea: 

1. A Wealth of Material. Whether you choose to play off a history event, a pop culture trend or a once-iconic celebrity, there’s a never-ending supply of marketing ideas. You simply need to use your imagination to figure out what works best with your brand, depending on the exact age group you are targeting. 

2. A Long Life Cycle. There is no time limit on nostalgia. A campaign that played well three weeks ago because it relied on nostalgic images from the early 2000s will be no less poignant three years from now, unlike so many commercials that age themselves right out of relevance because they are so of-the-moment—that Super Bowl commercial about Psy and pistachios comes to mind. 

3. It Just Works. You can’t argue with a strategy that delivers results. Jack Daniels has surfed the wave of nostalgia marketing to a big boom over the past year, with global sales up six percent. The rise has been tied to a campaign featuring Frank Sinatra, a notorious Jack fan, as well as the boozy goings-on of “Mad Men,” where the show’s characters often sip whiskey, spurring an association between Jack Daniels and the good ole days. 

How to Use Nostalgia Marketing

Now that we’ve established what nostalgia marketing is and why it works, it’s time to examine how to use it for yourself.

Getting Started

The first step is to choose how you’ll be making your nostalgia play. You might try: 

  • Playing off an old TV show
  • Revisiting characters from a beloved movie
  • Referencing a popular children’s book
  • Using imagery that recalls a certain time in life, such as childhood or the teenage years

Whatever you decide, make sure you have the means to carry it off. It’s great to want to tie your campaign to Henry Winkler as the Fonz, but if you can’t secure rights to the correct image or don’t have the money to pay to use the theme song to “Happy Days,” your campaign is sunk before you start. 

Proper Execution

A great idea won’t succeed unless it’s well executed. You have to combine the right inspiration and vision with the technical know-how to get the campaign off the ground. And you have to infuse something new into the equation; you can’t just reference the nostalgia device with no grounding, otherwise people will come away confused instead of energized by your fun idea. 

Even smaller brands can successfully use nostalgia marketing. In a recent video, Playworld Systems, a playground equipment company, employed images of a classic piece of playground equipment that we all climbed on in our youth, the dome. But it also explained the need to redesign the dome for today’s modern times, illustrating how the dome changed and why the end product was better. 

This achieved three laudable goals of nostalgia marketing: 

  • Imagery evoking a long-past era, in this case childhood
  • Warm feelings for a time left behind
  • And a concrete tie between the nostalgia of the past and the product of the future, in this case a playground dome your kids will enjoy just as much as you did when you were their age.

Tying Brand to Device

The importance of linking the nostalgia theme and the product being sold cannot be overemphasized. One of the major failings of many marketing campaigns is that they never sufficiently link the product with the promotion. This is often true of Super Bowl ads. Commercials that test through the roof with viewers are so concerned with getting laughs or evoking emotion that they don’t make a sales pitch or call to action. No matter how slick, an advertisement without a tie to the product is ultimately a failure. 

But Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Still, it’s also important to keep in mind that nostalgia marketing should be about enjoyment. 

We as a culture love to look to our past and smile, swoon, roll our eyes or mist up. We’re an emotional society, and we’re proud of what’s come before. It’s fun to look back every once in a while and see how far we’ve come. And if you can sell a bag of peanuts, a therapeutic swimming pool or a deer repellent while you’re at it, then more power to you — you’ve just harnessed the power of nostalgia. 

Chime in! Have you ever used nostalgia marketing successfully?

Photo: Screenshot of Dannon's Super Bowl ad on YouTube

Adrienne Erin is an outreach specialist at WebpageFX who is always looking for ways to improve her PR game. She has written for Content Marketing Institute, Search Engine People, and SiteProNews. Catch up with her on Twitter to see more of her work, connect on Google+ or check out her blog, Pongra.

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