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I won't lie — whenever I see those throwback lists on Buzzfeed titled something like, "If You Recognize Any Of These 50 Pictures, I'm Sorry, You're Officially Old," — I get super excited. As a 90's baby, there's something thrilling about scrolling through a list of things that brought me such joy in my youth: Tamagotchis, gel pens, Blockbuster, Gushers fruit snacks, Toys R Us — the list goes on.
Whenever I see these artifacts of my past, I don't just think, "Oh yeah, I remember those;" I end up traveling to another time. A time when my eyes were glued to the Tamagotchi screen in case the blob dies, and when I begged my parents to buy me a bunch of glitter gel pens (only for me never to use them). The feel of Gushers exploding between my teeth during recess. The smell of Toys R Us as I enter the store, dizzy with excitement for the unimaginable treasures that await me.
All of this hits me in the feels because it reminds me of a time when I had little worries — except what kind of Lunchables my mom packed for me that day at school. This feeling that I'm describing is called nostalgia — and coupled with marketing tactics, you've got yourself a powerful way to elicit emotions from your customers.
Nostalgia marketing is the strategy of tapping into positive, familiar concepts from previous decades to build trust for new ideas and reinvigorate modern campaigns. In other words, it's a tactic of associating your company with something that customers already love and have fond memories of.
This past year has been filled with masks, social distancing, and working from home. The lockdown has burnt people out, leaving them searching for familiar entertainment options that bring back better memories from decades past. In fact, a recent study found that more than half of consumers are finding comfort in old TV shows, films, and songs from their youth.
But all of this shouldn't come as a surprise — research has told us for years now that nostalgia helps counteract boredom, loneliness, and anxiety. And according to some studies, it can even serve as an effective way of coping with difficult life transitions and stressful moments.
In short: During times of anxiety or uncertainty, people find comfort in nostalgia. It's time to give customers some comfort food in the form of nostalgia marketing.
It doesn't matter what industry you're in — you can make use of a well-thought-out nostalgia marketing campaign. From Netflix and Bacardi to Airbnb and Adobe, let's go through the list of the five most notable "throwback" ads of the past few years:
For their 150th anniversary in 2012, Bacardi took customers down memory lane with a campaign that harkens back to the parties of the late '50s. Wild, glamorous, and classy, the ad ends with the slogan, "Starting parties for 150 years," reinforcing Bacardi's reputation as the must-have party fixture for over a century.
If the Stranger Things poster doesn't scream "the '80s," then I don't know what does. The Netflix original series lays the nostalgia factor on thick, complete with big hair, leg warmers, and a whole lot of kids playing outside and riding bikes. But despite these blast-from-the-past elements, Stranger Things still manages to balance the perfect amount of nostalgia and innovation to keep viewers hooked.
There's a reason why Bob Ross's PBS show, The Joy of Painting, was so popular with viewers — he showed the world that anyone could find joy in painting, no matter your expertise level. That's why Adobe thought of Ross when creating a tutorial for their Adobe Photoshop Sketch, a free mobile app that allows artists of all kinds to create expressive works of art. They successfully mashed the old with the new, but the message remains the same: Anyone can create beautiful art.
When the last-ever Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon, partnered with Airbnb to provide an unforgettable 90s' sleepover experience, it killed two birds with one stone: Blockbuster's manager, Sandi Harding, was able to show appreciation to the locals by providing a means of escapism during the pandemic, and Airbnb was able to reap all the press during a period of slow business. (And oh, they also donated to the Humane Society of Central Oregon, a "longtime partner" of Harding's Blockbuster — a nice bonus for all involved).
While many of the highlighted examples are from big brands, this doesn't mean that a small business can't rock their own unique nostalgia marketing campaign. When planning one out, keep these tips in mind:
Originally published on June 21st, 2021, last updated on June 16th, 2022.