Ecommerce Marketing: The Rising Use of Nostalgia Marketing

Raúl Galera
Raúl Galera
September 4, 2019
2 min read
Ecommerce Marketing: The Rising Use of Nostalgia Marketing

In this article

We were all glued to our screens as Eleven donned her galaxy print oversized shirt (complete with neon blue suspenders and yellow scrunchie, of course), and as Don Draper tried in vain to create some sort of appealing campaign for the unfortunately named Pepsi Patio. We squealed like children when Google Assistant’s Home Alone ad was first shown, and we can’t count the number of times we’ve rewatched the revivals of Full House and Gilmore Girls. And let’s not even get started with Mary Poppins Returns; a sequel to the much-loved original that premiered a whopping 54 years before, way back in 1964.

The truth is that nostalgia-driven marketing strategies work. The question is, why do we feel so connected to brands, products, and services when they use old-fashioned and even outdated ideas?

Nostalgia: Comfort Food for the Soul

Ultimately, nostalgia is comfort food. Humans have a natural tendency to romanticize the past, and we crave what the brain deems to be simpler happier times. When we’re given a way back to the past — whether that’s through entertainment, classic packaging, old recipes, or retro advertisements — we cling on as best we can. And brands are taking advantage of these inherent human behaviors to sell more.

Quite simply, the average customer is willing to spend more on products and services that can help them to recreate the past, at least in terms of the feelings of security and warmth they invoke. When brands use this to market and sell, they’re essentially working to build trust and loyalty by forging a personal connection between brand and customer. It’s an effective way of engaging on a highly personal level.

And it works. Nostalgia-driven marketing takes emotion and transforms it into revenue, with research showing that a blast from the past can improve how a customer feels about a brand, and also generate a greater intent to purchase. It’s not surprising that everyone from Apple to Coke has given it a try.

Adobe channeled Bob Ross to promote 'The Joy of Sketching' with Photoshop. Throwback.

Why Nostalgia-Driven Strategies Work

The science behind it is based on the idea that we associated products and brands of the past with celebrations or events; we may have been allowed to drink a Coke (from a glass bottle, of course) only on birthdays, or it may have been a family tradition that everyone would get together at Christmas and watch Home Alone. These associations make money less of a priority in the decision-making process.

30 elements of value hbr jobs to be done nostalgia marketing ecommerce referralcandy

Via HBR: The 30 Elements of Value. What value does your product provide?

So with cost falling down the ranks, what rises up to become a major driver of purchase intent? Emotional marketing. If we take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s clear that nostalgia forms one of the key emotional elements that humans need in order to form connections, relationships, and loyalty towards another.

Who Can Use Nostalgia in Marketing?

The good news is that, in a report titled ‘Nostalgic marketing, perceived self-continuity, and consumer decisions’, the researchers found that the effects of nostalgia held up across pretty much all sectors, and customers were positively influenced when looking at a wide range of product types and services.

The truth is that nostalgia-driven campaigns can be used by almost all businesses, but that doesn’t mean that it will automatically be successful. Nostalgia marketing can fall flat; it’s all about how you use it.

How to Apply Nostalgia Marketing to Your Business

Here are some expert tips on deriving the most value from your nostalgia marketing campaign:

1. Know Your Target Audience

Target audience analysis is absolutely essential before jumping in head first to a nostalgia marketing campaign, and there are plenty of examples why! For example, Pizza Hut in the United Kingdom recently released a delivery ad using an old character from a British TV series from 1972. The ad, of course, was met with a great deal of confused faces from the demographic most likely to be ordering pizza delivery - they were too young to remember the character. It’s vital to know who your target audience is and adjust your nostalgic message to resonate with them.

A brand getting it spot on? Apple. Apple advertised the iPhone 6 with the help of Cookie Monster; a character from a TV show that premiered in 1969 and is still running today! Apple successfully engaged with customers of all ages by using a character familiar with everyone, from teens to grandparents.

nostalgia marketing example apple cookie monster siri ecommerce referralcandy

Apple has a industry-leading cookie policy

2. Understand the Different Types of Nostalgia

There’s not just one type of nostalgia marketing. Businesses can use nostalgia based on old characters, historic events, classic recipes and processes, and even simply collective nostalgia based on typical memories of a set demographic. It’s also possible to use ‘fauxstalgia’; retro and vintage designs that are merely based on old memories but which do not explicitly use historic concepts. While all types can be utilized for campaigns, it’s best to stick to what you know as it’s easy to get wrong if you weren’t there!

nostalgia marketing coke new coke stranger things ecommerce referralcandy
New Coke

One brand embracing the different types of nostalgia marketing is Coke, who recently made the very bold decision to bring back ‘New Coke’; a product first launched in 1985 which didn’t exactly tickle the taste buds. The classic recipe was reintroduced for a limited period in collaboration with Stranger Things. According to Netflix, the new season of Stranger Things got 26.4 million views in the first four days - a big enough target market, even if you aren't old enough for the nostalgia.

3. Vary Your Uses

There are so many ways to use nostalgia marketing… don’t just stick to one. Perhaps the most obvious is social media, especially as nostalgia is already an integral part of many platforms. Facebook, for example, offers ‘Your Memories on Facebook’, while #ThrowbackThursday is common on Twitter (and even Pepsi are into it!). But don’t forget the content… company history, throwback campaigns, and ‘on this day’ posts. Many businesses are also using infographics as ways to present classic information in a modern way.

buzzfeed nostalgia marketing 80s kid clickbait ecommerce referralcandy

Only 90s kids will remember 00s Buzzfeed clickbait

Buzzfeed is undoubtedly King of nostalgia content, with posts such as this one looking back at an old TV series. Unlike Apple who aimed to reach all target audiences through the shared memory of Sesame Street, Buzzfeed targets very niche and specific demographics in each post for a more personal touch. Of course, there's usually at least one product mentioned in those posts with an affiliate link to Amazon or similar sites.

4. Be Open to Inspiration

Try not to get too caught up with clever ideas… some of the best inspiration for nostalgia marketing simply comes from calendar events. As briefly discussed earlier, nostalgia works because many products and brands are associated with memories of past events, such as annual holidays, so be sure to consider these events and use them as a base to draw your inspiration from. Nostalgia marketing isn’t the sort of thing you can look to your competitors for… it’s really got to be something that matches your values.

google assistant home alone again nostalgia marketing kevin mcallister jumping on bed gif ecommerce referralcandy

Google Assistant capitalized on the shared memories millions of people had of Christmas holidays of the past when they created a mini, modernized version of the holiday classic Home Alone, starring the original star of the 1990 blockbuster. This was definitely a case of the right advertising, at the right time.

Incorporating Nostalgia Into Your Marketing Plans

Nostalgia marketing is on the rise, and it’s proving to be one of the most effective ways to engage with customers on a personal level, especially at a time when B2C engagement is struggling. Memories are personal to each individual, and for a brand to show that they have similar memories really does stand out and force consumers to take notice. For businesses looking to diversify their existing marketing plans, incorporating nostalgia marketing is perhaps one of the best ways to stand out from the competition.

Anita Sambol

Anita Sambol is a content strategist and graphic designer at Point Visible, a marketing agency providing custom blogger outreach services. She has years of experience in designing graphics for web and running social media and content marketing campaigns. She loves cooking and football.

Raúl Galera
Raúl Galera

Raúl is ReferralCandy's partner manager.

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