KFC kicks off the 2019 football season with an advertising campaign based on the 1993 movie Rudy

The subject of nostalgia marketing has been rolling around in the back of my head for some time and with the pandemic, people are more than ever yearning for the “good ole days”. What prompted me to write about it today, was news of the passing of Eddie Van Halen. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, Van Halen was one of my favorite rock bands and I marveled at the musical genius of Eddie. Even though I haven’t listened to their music in many years, watching the news today and the tribute to the passing of Eddie brought back fond memories of my teenage years. I couldn’t believe how powerful the emotions were as I watched the historic footage of the band and listened to the music. This positive recollection and sentiment from the past is called nostalgia.

What is Nostalgia Marketing?

Because things like our favorite song from the past, the smell of Mom’s cooking, or an old movie have such strong emotional connections, marketers use them to create a positive feeling for a brand or product. Nostalgia marketing is all around us, here are a few examples:

Coca Cola is the king of nostalgia marketing

Coca Cola uses images of children enjoying a traditional Christmas to take us back to our childhood

Microsoft’s Child of the 90’s ad

Microsoft introduces the new Internet Explorer with this ad campaign

Chili’s 1975 Retro Ad

Chili’s creates an ad with 1970’s music and retro look

Spotify 1980’s Retro Print Ad Campaign

Not all ads have to be video as I show in this Spotify and the KFC ads.

Why Does Nostalgia Marketing Work?

Nostalgia marketing is the equivalent of comfort food. It gives us something good during bad times. Nostalgic ads began in earnest after September 11, 2001. Since that time our world as been in constant war, political unrest, and uncertain economic times. Today, we have the addition of a pandemic, riots, a contentious election, and economic catastrophe. In contrast, the 1980’s and 1990’s were relatively peaceful and prosperous. Nostalgia marketing works because it takes us back to those more positive times. It reaches us on an emotional level and opens us up to messaging – the holy grail of marketing.

Themes of effective nostalgic ads:

  • Know your audience. If your audience are millennials, using themes from the 1970’s may not connect with them. Use themes that are appropriate for the age group.
  • Successful ads use a nostalgic theme as a hook, then introduce something new and modern. If you watch the Microsoft ad above, it is using 90’s nostalgia to introduce the new version of Internet Explorer.
  • Have a finger on the pulse of cultural icons or events that influence your target audience.
  • Make the nostalgic theme positive and optimistic. Previous attempts have been made and failed, by using a theme that doesn’t generate positive feelings with the audience. Try to connect on an emotional level.

Ideas for Nostalgic Ad Campaigns:

Since we are in the Texas Hill Country, there is a unique culture to this region. The area is known for German culture, friendly people, and old fashioned values. These are nostalgic ideals that will resonate with people here and with visitors.

  • If the business has been around a while, find old pictures of the business, employees, or owners and create an ad campaign or social media posts around them. You could use clever phrases like “We served your grandparents and we are here to serve you” or “Making products since 19xx, the old fashioned way.” These types of phrases evoke feelings of trust, reliability, and longevity.
  • If the business is fairly new, use cultural events or icons from the past that promote the values of the business. For example, here in Boerne, there is a new Black Rifle coffee shop that uses themes of honoring military heroes and veterans from the past in its marketing. These patriotic themes resonate with their customers. Find past cultural topics that connect with your audience. In the Spotify ad above, 1980’s pop music band UB40 is used to evoke nostalgic memories, even though Spotify wasn’t around until just a few years ago.
  • The holidays are coming up and this is a great time to use nostalgia marketing. The holidays are a time when consumers are thinking about family, peace, and giving. Utilize those traditional themes into ads and social posts to promote the spirit of the holidays.
  • Use phrases that promote sentimental values such “Hill Country values”, “old fashioned customer service”, “authentic”, “old school”, “integrity”, “golden rule”, or “friendly”. These ideals build trust and loyalty.

In closing, nostalgia marketing is a effective approach since it uses the past to evoke strong positive emotions. It takes more time, research, and effort than just posting a photo of a product, but over time it will build more customer engagement, loyalty, and brand awareness. If done creatively, people will remember the ad or post, which will turn into new and repeat customers and more sales. With all that is going on the world right now, people need some positive reflection.