The Benefits of Nostalgia Marketing and How to Use It


If the past few years of advertising and brand strategies have felt like a blast from the past, that’s because many of them actually are. From ‘90s fashion to classic ‘80s movies, nostalgia marketing can be an effective way to draw in a young, millennial audience. Read on to find out the benefits of nostalgia marketing and how to use it for your business:

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Most marketers know that accessing a viewer or consumer’s emotions is one of the more potent ways of appealing to a customer base, but younger audiences especially respond to positive memories from the past.

Plenty of successful companies have used marketing campaigns based in nostalgia, from Microsoft to Coca-Cola, with an even greater return on their investment. And it’s no wonder why they’re so effective—with the advent of social media, it’s become all that much hard harder to reach younger audiences in a significant way. Paired with an increasingly competitive job market and a number of other factors, millennials look to their memories of the past and of their childhood with all the more fondness. Here’s a few tips on getting in with old and forging more connections with young consumers through nostalgia.

What Makes Things Nostalgic?

First things first—what makes something nostalgic? What might draw in millennial consumers and give them those particular pangs of bittersweet memory?

You might look no further than some of the most recognizable brand names and campaigns of the past. But your best bet is to do a little research on your target audience. What are common cultural touchstones for millennials and Gen Z? Think about big events in media, movies, or music that might have stuck in young consumers’ minds, and consider what consumers often return to as their “comfort food.

Finding those positive memories and associations is a sure way to create nostalgia, especially finding touchstones that young audiences may not have thought about in many years. Remember, you’re not just going retro—you’re finding those things that evoke positive reminiscence. 

Recommended reading: 5 Ways to Promote Your Business to Millennials and the iGeneration

Research Other Companies’ Previous Marketing Campaigns

If you plan on utilizing nostalgia, it’s not a bad idea researching how others have used it. Companies like McDonald’s, Adobe and Spotify have each centered marketing campaigns and commercials around nostalgia marketing. Look to Spotify’s commercial featuring Falcor from classic ‘80s movie The Neverending Story, or to Sunny Delight’s lampoon of their own commercials from the 1990s for a few tips on what makes a great marketing campaign.

Many commercials or ad campaigns that utilize nostalgia either double down on the source material’s heartfelt content, or they give it a brand new twist, adding a little humor. For instance, Sunny Delight’s landmark commercial in the ‘90s. They took the initial concept and turned it on its head—the rollerblading group of kids recognizable to any ‘90s kid became a group of 30-year-olds still raiding their mother’s refrigerator, parodying the commercial while effectively creating an emotional connection through consumers’ memory of the original campaign.


Tell Your Company’s Story

Consider using a nostalgic lens for your company’s own story. Celebrate an anniversary or milestone, or consider “throwing back” to an old campaign or old product. Use the old to pave a way for the new. With your company’s story or a much-beloved campaign from the past, you might introduce a new product, service, or direction.

Tap into your company’s long history to suggest a journey of mutual growth between you and your consumer. Companies like Russell Athletic have capitalized on their rich history with their new “Retro Clothing for Men” marketing theme — which pays homage to the company’s iconic original sweatshirt that was invented in the 1930s and has been selling in college campus bookstores around the U.S. for decades.

Getting creative with nostalgia marketing. Even if your company hasn’t been around for that long, consider using old marketing materials or logos as a tribute to your past.

Come Up With an Emotional Hook, and Think Ahead

Every nostalgia marketing campaign has a particular “hook” to it. Keep your company’s finger on the pulse of what the newest generation might be interested in, or what they might find most important. Even as you are looking back to the past, remember that your young audience exists in a very different context, which will demand a careful mix of old and new marketing methods and signaling.

Consider implementing a mix of old and new media through a new product and a tried-and-true campaign, or through a mix of print and digital media campaigns. Though younger consumers spend much of their time on social media, don’t underestimate the power of print — catalogs and print ads via mail can be just as effective as ads on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, provided they are carefully utilized.

Don’t Go Overboard

One pitfall of nostalgia marketing is the potential to overdo it. Though it’s important to make an emotional connection with your audience and consumers, you’ll find that too much nostalgia and emotion can read as dishonest or even manipulative. Make sure you’re carefully balancing heartfelt sentiment in your campaign, and that you are appealing to the correct audience. If you are not accurately predicting what consumers might feel nostalgia for, or if you are over-sentimentalizing your campaigns, you risk losing your audience, or appearing artificial.


Over to you now. Have you tried nostalgia marketing for your business? Tell us what worked in the comments below. 

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