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Something Old, Something New: Using Nostalgia in Marketing


This time of year always makes me reminisce about days spent at my grandparents’ farm. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, the house was packed with kids, grandkids, dogs and too much food.

Nostalgia hits people hard during the holidays, and our reactions to these flashbacks manifest in countless ways. Fits of laughter, feelings of melancholy. Even the most no-nonsense rancher has a memory that can smack them in the middle of chores and get them misty-eyed.

Nostalgia has also been known to inspire our purchasing behavior. But what does this mean for you?

Brands have been leveraging nostalgia in marketing campaigns for decades — ranging from quaint, tangible products to overt truck commercials. And the tactic might be more impactful than ever. A recent Nielsen Music study found that throughout the pandemic, more than 50% of consumers sought comfort in shows, songs and movies from their childhood.

Think nostalgia would be an effective brand strategy? Here are a few tips:

Keep it simple.

Playing on an audience’s nostalgia can be a delicate thing. Not every campaign needs to be a tear-inducing Don Draper monologue to be successful. Nor does it have to feel like an obvious manipulation. Burger King and Pizza Hut already started earlier this year with simple throwback rebrands and PAC-MAN pizza boxes.

Know your reference.

Nostalgia is often most potent when it brings us back to a shared experience. If your reference is too niche, it may only resonate with a few people. If it’s too general, it won’t engage people strongly enough. Make it specific to a place and time but universal enough that it can appeal to as much of your audience as possible.

Know your audience.

If you were deep in Coke country, you wouldn’t make a social post about Crystal Pepsi to stoke nostalgia (unless you were making fun of it). And if your followers aren’t old enough to know Crystal Pepsi, you shouldn’t reference it anyway. Your target audience is full of people that you should know a lot about — including what gives them the warm fuzzies.

Make it relevant.

Donkey Kong climbing a grain silo is a funny campaign idea, but where does it go from there? People might laugh at a reference for reference’s sake, but tying their nostalgia back to your brand is what wins them over and earns you space in their minds. You share an existing timeline with your longstanding customers; there’s bound to be several milestones and hardships to work with. And it’s a perfect opportunity for newer customers to get to know your brand on a deeper level than tradeshow booths and whitepapers.

Adding seasonal colors to your website and scheduling a few social posts will probably get you through the holidays. But, if you’re ready for something new, then try something old. Deploying a thoughtful campaign that plays to your audience’s nostalgia is a great way to endear your brand to them and keep you top of mind when it’s purchasing time.

Looking for inspiration on using nostalgia in marketing campaigns? Let’s chat!