A couple of weeks ago my mom sent an email to my brother and I with the subject line “Do You Remember This?” with this image attached:

Wow, way to take it way back mom. The picture alone brought back a ton of childhood memories. So why am I rambling about a toy telephone that some of you are too young to recognize? Nostalgia marketing.

Nostalgia marketing aims to trigger the positive feelings associated with the past. This is especially important in times when the social and economic climate is uncertain and people search for ways to put a positive spin on the situation. If you can’t put a positive spin on the present, then look back on the good times.

Research on nostalgia has indicated that nostalgic thinking might actually increase self-esteem, and as a result increase feelings of optimism. Maybe all of those old school ads are doing more than just giving you warm and fuzzy feelings after all.

A great example of nostalgia marketing is Microsoft’s Child of the 90s ad for Internet Explorer. Rather than ignoring their bad reputation with the younger generation, Microsoft used it to their advantage. As VisibleMeasures stated, “…instead of running from the idea of being a dated product, the brand played up their place in our personal history and as an icon of the 90s.”

I could go into more detail about what an outstanding job this ad does at hitting on key cultural points of being a kid, in the US, in the 90s, but it’s better if you just watch.

Slate called this the “…Definitive 1990s Nostalgia Video.”  If you’re part of generation Y and this ad didn’t make you feel nostalgic, then I weep for your childhood.

Not Always a Homerun

It is possible for nostalgia marketing to have the opposite impact. For example, certain classic American cars such as the Ford Mustang have undergone recent design changes that may cause discontent among its primary client base.

Such a drastic change causes clients to feel like a product they are emotionally attached to has been tampered with. This can cause pretty drastic reactions. For example, in 2004 after Lancôme discontinued Nutrix for a new version of the moisturizer, they received so many complaints that they eventually (within a few months) had to bring the original back. Gap also had to bring their logo back after just six days of rebranding.

Also, trying to force nostalgia can also blow up in your face. This Cheerios commercial is an example of a campaign that was meant to be nostalgic, and as you can see from the YouTube comments, reactions varied and often wandered over to the drastic side.

It’s kind of like we’re having breakfast with Nana? It’s kind of like I never want to eat Cheerios again.

With that said, it’s also important to note that your target audience is a huge factor in nostalgia marketing. While the complete redesign of a classic car might be incredibly relevant to a large segment of individuals in my parents’ generation, it’s not as relevant to my generation. Focusing your campaign on things that only members of a certain demographic can relate to may seem like a good idea at first, but could backfire and alienate entire segments of the population that do use or may have been interested in your product (such as in the Microsoft example above).