Nostalgia Marketing: Moving Forward by Looking Back

Events are in a prime position to benefit from nostalgia marketing, but it must make sense for the brand and be appropriate to the target audience.

Released in 2016, Pokémon Go was instantly a massive success. The game was the fastest mobile game to reach the 10 million download mark, and within its first month, it exceeded 100 million downloads worldwide. It also set five Guinness World Records, including the most revenue grossed by a mobile game in its first month ($206.5 million) and the fastest time to gross $100 million by a mobile game (20 days).

However, just because something makes a lot of money does not mean it’s good. After all, the Transformers movies made enough money to buy several islands, and there’s not a coherent plot in any of them. The biggest knock against Pokémon Go when it was released was that it was not, in fact, a game. You just walked around trying to catch virtual monsters.

Yet, the reason for the game’s success is also why the Transformers movies were successful. This review from Pocket Gamer says it best, “The very personal nature of catching Pokémon in your own neighborhood made me smile more than any game has for years.”

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It was simple, but it made you smile. The gameplay was modern, but it reminded many players of when they were age 10 and caught their first Pokémon playing on a Nintendo DS.

Nostalgia is powerful – and a powerful marketing technique. Why is “Friends” one of the biggest shows on Netflix? Why are there so many revivals and reboots occurring on television and in movies, cars, and fashion? What movie are you most looking forward to this winter: “Terminator: Dark Fate,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Frozen 2,” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “Jumanji: The Next Level,” “Cats,” “Little Women,” or “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker?” Why do you think every other movie has a superhero in it? It’s because all of those things remind us of a simpler and better time. The fact that this time likely never existed is part of the point. We’re being sold an idea.

And it works.

According to a report in the Journal of Consumer Research, we are more likely to spend money when we are feeling nostalgic. From the study, “We wondered why nostalgia is so commonplace in marketing. One reason could be that feeling nostalgic weakens a person’s desire for money. In other words, someone might be more likely to buy something when they are feeling nostalgic.”

The study consisted of six experiments that all analyzed how much people were willing to spend when they were reminiscing. In one, participants who were asked to think about the past were willing to pay more for a set of products than consumers asked to look forward to the future. Another looked at donations and found that people would give more after reflecting on a past event. In another, consumers were paid to listen to an unpleasant sound. Those asked to think about a nostalgic event were less willing to endure the sound than those asked to think about an ordinary event.

It makes sense. When we look forward, we have to think about all of the stuff we have to do: the mortgage or rent we have to pay, the groceries we need to buy, the car inspection that is past due, etc. But those things don’t exist in the past. The past is all innocence and childhood, summer vacations and ice cream.

According to a report on Nostalgia’s Effects on Consumers, “The affection aspect indicates the element of nostalgia that the past is viewed through rose-tinted glasses, meaning that nostalgic recollections usually filter out negative aspects of the past. This naturally means that a nostalgic person will view the past as better than it perhaps was.”

Tips for Using Nostalgia at Your Next Event

Your Product/Event Has to Stand on Its Own

Brands can’t just slap an ‘80s font on their product and expect it to evoke nostalgia. Nostalgia does not exist in a vacuum. It has to be a memory or a sense of time that is connected to a new product. Sure, a large part of “Stranger Things” initial success was because it evoked nostalgia, but it wouldn’t have endured three seasons if it wasn’t good on its own.

Just remember when adding nostalgia to your event, that your initial concept needs to be the base. Use nostalgia as window-dressing.

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Nostalgia is Extremely Demographic Specific

It may seem obvious, but it’s important to recognize that each demographic has a different nostalgia trigger. This fact recently played out when the trailer for the live-action “Cats” movie was released. The movie is adapted from a stage play where everyone is in costume as a cat. The film, instead, uses CGI to create hybrid cat/people and Twitter freaked out about the actors’ looks. Well, that doesn’t matter. More than 90 percent of the people with Twitter accounts (and likely 100 percent of the snarkiest ones) are not the target demographic for the film.

So, if you decide to have a “Saved by the Bell” theme for your event, and your demographic is a bunch of Gen Xers, you’re going to be met with confusion and shoulder shrugs – not engagement.

You have to know your demographic to make nostalgia marketing work. Only once you know your audience can you select a time and theme that will resonate and create those feelings of comfort and happiness.

Make Sure Nostalgia Fits with Your Brand Image

The first iPod was released in 2001. The first iPhone came out in 2007. Can you think of a time when Apple tried to market the next generation of its products by looking back nostalgically? Probably not because Apple, like any tech company, wants to be seen as an innovator. So, nostalgia marketing does not work for these companies.

While the goal of any nostalgia campaign is to put a new twist on something familiar, even that can backfire in specific industries. Be very careful that your efforts evoke a nostalgic longing instead of simply making your brand seem out of touch.

Nostalgic Event Ideas

Retro Design

Visual design is a powerful emotional trigger, making events the ideal venue for a nostalgia marketing campaign. How retro you choose to go is entirely up to you – and your demographic.

You could decide to limit the design to your signage and elements of your display. Or, you could choose to go further, maybe have some touchscreen kiosks that look like ‘80s arcade machines.

If you have an area where attendees go to relax, consider making some old-school analog games available, like Connect Four and Jenga. You could also create a selfie area but encourage participants to use Polaroids instead of their phone. The goal is to blend vintage and modern in a fun and effective way.

Vintage Content

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If your event has a history – or if there’s some industry history you could utilize – consider creating content that takes a look back. Sharing this content across social media will generate those warm, nostalgic feelings and, ideally, earn some shares, as well.

This approach can continue through the music used throughout the event. You may not be able to afford an actual era-specific group, but a cover band may be available (and they may also be more fun and approachable).

Nostalgia marketing at an event can be an effective – and lucrative – walk down memory lane. However, to avoid your efforts appearing disingenuous and your crowd being disinterested, your campaign needs to be presented to the correct demographic and thoughtfully integrated with your brand.

TTG Marketing