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Whether it’s an old song or a retro fashion trend - everyone loves to experience a blast from the past.
When it comes to marketing, nostalgia can do more than just raise a smile. A study by the Journal of Consumer Research found that nostalgic sentiment can lead to an increased willingness to pay for desired objects.
Meanwhile, recent data from Google shows that 75% of people aged 35-54 regularly watch YouTube videos related to past events or people. So, why exactly does nostalgia have such an effect on consumer behaviour? Here are a few reasons, along with examples of brands that have capitalised on it.
Combatting consumer fatigue
From Facebook ads to product packaging, consumers are bombarded with multiple marketing messages on a daily basis. In fact, it’s been predicted that Americans can be exposed to anything between 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements on any given day.
Due to this overload, consumers are naturally becoming numb to marketing messages – not to mention ever more cynical – meaning they are less likely to make an emotional connection to a brand.
Nostalgia can turn this notion on its head, with research showing that it can counteract loneliness and anxiety and even help us to navigate stressful life transitions easier. Brands that are synonymous with specific time periods are therefore able to build on this, tapping into the fond memories of consumers, and using it to re-engage with an audience.
Nokia is a prime example, recently revamping its classic 3310 as part of the brand's comeback. And while there’s reportedly nothing special about the phone itself, excitement surrounding its release has been palpable, naturally stemming from those who once owned the original product.
Alongside this, Nokia has been able to cleverly build on the notion that modern technology might be doing us more harm than good. By harking back to a simpler time – when an SMS and a game of Snake was the height of technological innovation – it is able to put a positive (and sentimental spin) on the product's shortcomings.
When people romanticise or feel sentimental about a certain period in their life, such as childhood or university days, it is often because they are thinking of a time when they felt particularly happy, secure or care-free. Unsurprisingly, brands often try to recreate these positive feelings through nostalgia, aiming to in turn increase positive brand perception.
Similarly, nostalgia is also used in marketing to denote a long history or sense of tradition - again by harking back to a happier or simpler time - which can instil a sense of trust in consumers.
Last year, Pepsi re-launched Crystal Pepsi – a product that first launched in 1992 - complete with a 90s themed marketing campaign. It even created its own version of ‘The Oregon Trail' – a popular video game that included references to Tamagotchis, pagers, and floppy disks. Not only did it conjure up childhood memories, but the campaign also reminded consumers of Pepsi's long-standing presence in pop culture as a whole.
That being said, while Pepsi’s campaign might have been brilliantly nostalgic for millennials, a limited frame of reference could have potentially put off younger or older consumers – an important note for marketers to remember.
Creating shareable content
As well as helping to ease stress, feelings of nostalgia can also make people feel more socially connected to others and even increase the enjoyment of another’s company. This explains why brands commonly use nostalgia to drive social content, capitalising on the consumer’s natural instinct to share it with friends and family.
Buzzfeed is a great example of this. Alongside main verticals like ‘news’, ‘food’ and ‘politics’, it even has a ‘rewind’ category. Described as a ‘digital time machine’, it only creates content that harks back to moments and niche topics within mainstream media.
Other brands also use this to enhance digital content on social channels, for instance, jumping on hashtags like #TBT (throw-back Thursday) to regularly engage an audience.
Combining the past and present
While nostalgia is clearly an effective tool for capturing consumer interest, it can be even more effective when it is combined with innovation. The popularity of Pokémon Go perfectly demonstrates this.
Not only did the game resurrect a much-loved childhood phenomenon, but by placing it in the context of everyday modern life – and merging it with real-time augmented reality - consumers were able to experience it in an entirely new way.
Fashion and apparel brands tend to also use this technique, often putting a decidedly modern spin on a retro or classic trend. Footwear brand LA Gear, which once worked with the likes of Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul, relaunched in 2015 with a collaboration with rapper Tyga.
Lastly, we’ve also seen the likes of Adidas and Doc Martens revamp previously popular products for the modern consumer.