Employing Nostalgia in Marketing

May 5, 2009 Business and Management 2 comments

We have all been victims at one point or other. Apparently, the older one gets, the more one suffers from it.

This syndrome is manifested in a periodic penchant for the past. Life was more carefree then, unfettered by the stresses and strains of modernity and technology.

Cast in luxuriant and honeyed sepia tones, days were then spent in the pursuit of simple rustic pleasures. Nights were soothed by romantic ballads wafting through a crackling old transistor radio.

Calling them the “good old days”, those yesteryears were always charmed and blissful. They envelop us in a kaleidoscope of warm and fuzzy feelings. They engage our hearts and minds with thoughts of our younger halcyon days when we embraced life with all of our senses.

That illness is none other than nostalgia – an affliction of the mind once thought to be a physical ailment back in the 17th century.

What is Nostalgia in Marketing?

Nostalgia is a powerful marketing strategy. It leverages the fond memories and emotional connections people have with the past to create a resonant, engaging brand experience.

This approach taps into our collective sentimentality for previous decades, utilising iconic imagery, music, styles, and cultural references from the past to evoke a sense of comfort, familiarity, and trust. By drawing on these nostalgic elements, marketers can create a deep emotional bond with their audience, often leading to increased brand loyalty and engagement.

This technique is particularly effective in today’s fast-paced, constantly evolving world, as it provides a comforting reminder of simpler times, appealing to both older generations who lived through those periods and younger generations who romanticise them.

Rollin’ Good Times

Numerous songs, books, and movies have been produced waxing lyrical about the rock-and-rolling 50s, swinging 60s, and “flower-powered” 70s. Countless games (online and offline) have been created about legendary wars and battles, capturing the heroism, triumph and spirit of famous skirmishes large and small.

Restaurants have also hopped onto this bandwagon, creating “authentic” dishes that your grandmother used to cook when ingredients were fresh and seasonings were painstakingly prepared by hand.

Even pubs and clubs have capitalised on this obsession for the obsolete – notice how popular disco Zouk’s Mambo Jambo nights have been after being in existence for more than a decade. Or the number of “old-style” bars which offer the chance to experience a different time and space in a modern cosmopolitan city.

How can marketers take advantage of this fondness for the forgotten? Are there ways for us to strike a chord with those with a penchant for recollection, reminiscence and remembrance?

After all, the silver market is one with tremendous potential, if we only know how to tap onto it.

Retro Cultural Immersion

The first and most important thing you need to do is to immerse yourself in the culture of the past. Doing so helps you to tap into the Zeitgeist of a bygone era, and to discern how things were like then.

There are several ways to consume nostalgic culture. Some of my favourites include the following:

  • Watch a movie or television programme produced during that same period. These often have lots of visual, auditory and behavioural cues which reflect what’s popular then.
  • Listen to old radio programmes or broadcasts.
  • Visit a country known for preserving that specific slice of the past.
  • Make a trip to a museum or a theme park which focuses on that period in history.

Language of the Past

Next, one should try to understand the lingua franca of that age and that generation. If you are writing copy in an advertisement, brochure or website, use language that was commonly used during those days. Consult available references from the library or dive deeply in the Internet to seek online archives of pop culture.

The best way to do this is to consult somebody who lived during those times, and it isn’t that difficult – just look within your extended family! If you do use colloquial language, be sure that the right slang are used.

Icons of Yesteryear

Thereafter, search for the most important icons of those bygone days in all aspects of your marketing. What were the popular product designs, advertising and publicity materials, websites, or on-site decor used during that period? Which celebrities back then were the talk of the town? Was there a particularly happening party in town that everybody remembered fondly?

How about an old restaurant or food centre which served delicious yet affordable food? Or a building which housed many sweet and loving memories?

Icons are useful signposts that help one remember significant moments in one’s life. Using them could help trigger the swell of rich feelings embedded in nostalgia.

Aesthetic Authenticity

One should also strive to be as aesthetically authentic as possible when recreating the past.

If you can afford it (depending on the propensity of your market to pay), try not to sting on the right materials to make history happen.

If you are unsure how a particular “heritage-themed” backdrop, poster, banner, music, scent or even taste of that era is like, consult the experts of that era. Alternatively, do some research at the National Archives or National Library.

You may also wish to enlist the help of authoritative visual design, architectural, music and textual style guides relevant to the period in mind. Confirm your designs with individuals hailing from your proposed market segment.

Regaling Old Tales

Look for ways to bring new life to old yarns, tales and fables.

Dig through dusty archival records or read biographies of specific periods for inspiration. Conduct focus group sessions or one-on-ones with your targeted customer segments, and see if your marketing strategies can be woven into a compelling storyline that will grip their attention.

Remember to choose a mixture of both positive and poignant stories to enrich your communication. Nostalgia has to connect deeply across the full span of human emotions – from love, joy, and peace, to pain, sorrow and suffering.

Emotional Connections

Finally, and most importantly, seek to create emotional resonance with your target market.

What are the two or three most important memories that one has about bygone days which are so vivid and stirring that they can make one cry? How can you orchestrate your four Ps (product, price, place, promotion) of marketing to be so spot-on that they can touch the hearts of your anticipated customers?

To achieve that heart-felt connection, invest time and energy in interacting with members of your target market. Dive deeply into their world. Understand and feel what their world was like.

The Past is a Market for the Future

The business of nostalgia is one that is set to grow as people become increasingly disillusioned with the present and uncertain about the future.

Greying populations will increase in proportion as birth rates decline in most countries around the world. To reach active agers in their 50s, 60s and 70s, we need to understand what their youthful years were like. We can do so by bringing back the magic and beauty of bygone years, sprinkled with the pixie dust of nostalgia sweetened and mellowed through age.

What are your thoughts on employing nostalgia in marketing? What would make it succeed in this day and age?

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. Excellent advice! Too often, ad staffers may be too biologically behind to be able to effectively prepare messages and visuals that resonate with “older” audiences. It’s that “older” audience that most often has more purchasing buyer than most, if not all, target audiences. This post is defininitely a good reminder that research is critical to a successful ad/PR/marketing campaign.

  2. love this article! currently working on a project and i thought this helped me quite a bit (:

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