6 Ways To Use Nostalgia In Marketing

Emmanuel ProbstMarch 26, 20204384 min

While nostalgia marketing isn’t new, it is particularly relevant today at a time when people feel increasingly lonely on one hand and distrust brands and corporations on the other.

Although nostalgia is not for every brand. In some cases, nostalgia can marginalize your brand by emphasizing that it is out of touch and is no longer relevant to consumers. Radio Shack initially scored big with its 2014 Super Bowl ad, featuring icons from the 1980s such as wrestler Hulk Hogan, the iconic DeLorean car from the Back to the Future movie franchise, and extraterrestrial Alf. But its past could not save its future and just three years later Radio Shack filed for bankruptcy, closing its 187 stores for good. To implement nostalgia successfully, your brand must still be valuable and relatable in the present. Here are six ways to use nostalgia in marketing:

1. Leverage Brand Heritage: In a country founded on mobility and opportunity, heritage matters. Everyone loves a good story, and having a heritage story to tell will considerably strengthen your brand. This applies to any category including sports apparel (Patagonia), leather goods (Vuitton, Goyard), Ice Cream (Ben & Jerry’s) or speakers and headphones (Marshall). Charles Bergh, Levi’s CEO, underscores the importance of finding the right balance between heritage and being contemporary. A brand that capitalizes too much on its heritage comes across as old and dusty. Conversely, disregarding history means walking away from one of the brand’s strongest assets.

2. Go On A Scavenger Hunt: Search the corporate basement and attic for old sketches, notes, purchase orders, pictures, products. Pick one or two finds from your scavenger hunt and write a short narrative. What you are looking for is a connection with the past, whether it is with a person (KFC and Colonel Sanders), a place (upmarket Laguiole knives are manufactured in the eponymous city), a purpose (Levi Strauss initially created clothes for gold miners in the early 1850s) or an experience (L.L. Bean started as an outfitter of fishing and hunting supplies).

3. Use Your Close Or Distant Past: You don’t have to have hundreds of years of history to use nostalgia in your marketing. All you need is a time period that your target market is going to feel nostalgic about. As long as your brand was around when your target audience was in its childhood or teenage years, you can use elements of this time period. If by chance your brand is older, you can easily refer to a romanticized and idealized past that your audience did not even live through. Celebrate anniversaries Just like with people, anniversaries mark milestones of brand histories. Anniversaries are a powerful reminder of the viability and tenure of your brand. When implemented properly, they are an easy and powerful marketing tactic. Here’s an example of what not to do: It’s the Goodnight Mattress anniversary weekend!!!! 40 percent OFF!!!! Too good to be true. Prices this weak must be inflated by 40 percent. Or this: Voted #1 mattress store!!! Everything must go!!!! By whom? Who cares?

4. Take Your Customers On A Trip Down Memory Lane: On the day of its 10th year anniversary, Facebook notified its users that a video of their life to date on Facebook was ready to watch. The “look back” compilation was made of 15 of each user’s most-liked status, photos, and life events. A great way for Facebook to remind us of how central the platform has become in our lives and the way we document our memories.

5. Play To Your Customers’ Senses: Of our five senses, smell is the most powerful to recall our childhood memories. At Jenny’s ice cream in Calabasas, California, staff makes waffle cones by hand with an iron prominently displayed at the entrance of the store. As you walk by the store, the smell of warm waffle instantly transports you back to your younger years. Jenny’s ice cream could have set up the waffle maker in the back room. By setting it up at the front, it triggers nostalgia, authenticity, and helps upsell the (more expensive) waffle cone, at no additional marketing cost.

6. Leverage Today’s Technology To Revive Yesterday’s Brands: Polaroid recently launched its Z2300 camera, which merges analog and digital photography by allowing users to save pictures as digital files as well as printing them instantly. Such products enable the 1940s camera company to stay relevant by balancing its nostalgic vibe with modern technology. Polaroid also harnesses the power of Instagram by retaining independent content creators to create premium content for its brand. While being 60 years apart, Polaroid and Instagram fulfill the same meaning for their users: bringing people together by sharing pictures instantly. Hashtags #FBF and #TBT Using the hashtags #FBF (Flashback Friday), and #TBT (Throwback Thursday) are an inexpensive way to spread the word about your brand’s nostalgic appeal.

Where do you want to transport your customer? A simpler time? A happier time? A warmer place? A slower pace?

You will find many more techniques for building brands in my new book Brand Hacks: How to Grow your Brand by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning.

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