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Nostalgia Sells: How to Adapt Your Marketing

Every startup has to decide what its brand flavor will be. And while there’s definitely a demand for sleek, modern, and cutting-edge branding, don’t underestimate the power of throwing it back a few decades.


Nostalgic branding evokes pretty raw emotions, which can be a great thing for a new brand to capitalize on. It can also make the unfamiliar feel very familiar.

The Compelling Nature of Nostalgia 

When was the last time you found yourself daydreaming about some past event? Perhaps it was the last high school football game you ever played? Or your first kiss? Or maybe it was that time you got a big promotion at work and your wife and kids surprised you with a big celebratory dinner? These are all examples of nostalgia — and they’re more than just moments of reminiscing. 

“Nostalgia is the warm, fuzzy emotion that we feel when we think about fond memories from our past,” explains Erica Hepper, Ph.D., a lecturer at the University of Surrey in England. “It often feels bittersweet — mostly happy and comforting, but with a tinge of sadness that whatever we’re remembering is lost in some way.”

Here’s another way to understand it: Reminiscence is the behavior of looking back fondly on the past, while nostalgia is the emotional response it triggers. Research shows that nostalgia actually causes significant changes in the brain — mostly positive. It often makes people feel more optimistic and warmer. It can even block out negative emotions and help people shift their habits in a more positive direction. In other words, it’s a powerful force with predominantly positive outcomes. 

3 Ways to Use Nostalgia in Marketing

From a marketing perspective, it’s possible for brands to evoke feelings of nostalgia in its customers by encouraging them to look back fondly on things of the past. Just look at some of the latest cameras from Fujifilm and Polaroid, and you’ll see how powerful the pull of nostalgia is in a customer base that’s in love with the idealistic notion of a picture-perfect past. Or consider the widespread appeal of the Netflix show “Stranger Things,” set in the 1980s. Vintage tableware is making a comeback. There are even companies like eFireplaceStore offering freestanding stoves and accessories, allowing customers to embrace elements of simpler times.

Regardless of what product or service you sell, there are ways you can incorporate nostalgia in your marketing efforts to reach customers and amplify sales. Here are a few ways you can do it:

1. Know Your Target Market

You can’t use nostalgia successfully in your marketing efforts if you don’t understand exactly who your target market is. Take “Stranger Things,” for example. While plenty of today’s high school students enjoy the show, they don’t like it for its nostalgic factor; they never experienced the 1980s. It’s the viewers in their late 30s and 40s who feel that sense of wistfulness. Netflix understands this and does a good job of targeting both groups of viewers. But if the brand were only targeting high schoolers, it would miss the mark. Make sure you know your audience so you can embrace what’s nostalgic for them.

2. Authenticity Is a Must 

Authenticity is a must-have today, and that extends to throwbacks. “It works well for brands that have an authentic connection with the past, especially some powerful associations with it (e.g., the VW Beetle),” marketer Steve Olensik writes. “It can work for brands without an authentic connection to the past if the brands can create that familiar feeling without. This is tricky but can be done. It is aspirational for some but at the same time nostalgic.”

In other words, authenticity is the key. You can’t fake nostalgia and expect it to work. You need a genuine connection with the past — or at least an authentic reach toward the past — for your efforts to be effective. Your brand story, incorporating your grandparents’ old-fashioned methods, might serve you well. Explanations of how you’ve incorporated old-school elements — like rounded hubcap shapes or lace doily touches — can also create ties.

3. Continually Look Forward

Very few brands can live completely in the past and continue to grow. It’s okay to leverage nostalgic branding, but don’t do so at the expense of future growth and development. Always keep one eye on the future so you can innovate and maintain relevancy. 

There’s no doubt that nostalgia sells. The key for brands is to look back at the past with a genuine appreciation rather than a gimmicky push. It’s all about being real and natural — nothing should be forced. Done well, nostalgia can evoke just enough of those bittersweet feelings to compel people to make a purchase. Likewise, it has the ability to foster brand loyalty for years to come.

Author : Holly Hutton

Born in the Big Easy and raised in the Sunshine State, Holly has spent the last five years brunching in the Big Apple and bantering with Big Ben. As a wandering writer, techy-in-training, and avid alliterator, Holly has written everything from educational policy and political news briefs to web content and travel blogs. She is thrilled to be a part of the KS team and working with a community of smart, savvy, entrepreneurs on all things startup!

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