“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent…in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone…it’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” – Don Draper, Mad Men
If there is one emotion that has encapsulated summer 2016 as it draws to a close, it is nostalgia. Though it isn’t by any means a new trend, it has found a willingly receptive audience in recent months. From fresh bouts of Harry Potter fever, following the premiere of new West End play The Cursed Child, to Pokémaniacs glued to their phone screens playing Pokémon Go, and the Eighties Amblin feels of Netflix hit Stranger Things, nostalgia has invaded our screens, homes and lives.
Clichéd as it is to open a marketing blog with a quote from Mad Men, what Don Draper says when he’s pitching to Kodak in the final episode of Season One holds true. In a thoroughly imperfect world (and a particularly imperfect year), is it any wonder that nostalgia has taken hold of consumers and audiences across the world so completely? Who wouldn’t want to live in a different time period? It’s for this reason that nostalgia is particularly effective when it comes to connecting with millennials, who are coming of age in a difficult time and naturally romanticising simpler eras.
With instant reach available across a variety of platforms, the prevalence of Throwback Thursday and similar hashtags and initiatives ensures that nostalgia can be tapped into at a moment’s notice and, as we have seen this summer, it can garner incredibly positive results.
While it’s tempting to jump straight in, it isn’t as easy as a fashion brand posting a filtered picture of Audrey Hepburn from the 1950s on Instagram and calling it a day. A campaign with a focus on nostalgic elements has to be planned and executed with the same care and consideration as any other campaign.
Make the most of nostalgia’s emotional hook
We know that the most successful marketing efforts strongly tap into an emotion – Christmas television adverts, for example, cynically try to emulate the success of John Lewis’s annual efforts (as if the number of people they can make cry correlates to the amount of sales they’ll drive).
Nostalgia is just as much an emotion as sadness or joy, but it works in a subtler way – the rush of memory and associated feelings that nostalgia brings is every bit as powerful, but many might not even recognise its effect on their feelings about a brand and subsequent effect on their buying behaviour. When we care, we buy, and there’s no better emotion to make you care than nostalgia.
It must be combined with progression
Nostalgia by itself is not conducive to an effective marketing campaign – you have to offer customers something new and of the moment. Think about the examples above: Harry Potter was the hook, but the stage play was brand new; Pokémon was the hook, but the augmented reality aspect of the game was brand new; classic Eighties films like E.T. and Stand By Me were the hook, but the Stranger Things story was brand new.
People won’t connect in a meaningful and lasting way with nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake – they need something new to discuss or interact with, thus forming the bonds of a new connection with a company. Linking the past and the present with brand messaging is as close to a quick win as it’s possible to get at the moment.
It needs to be timed right
Although you’re dealing with campaigns that, by necessity, evoke the past, a campaign which is run at the wrong moment won’t gain any traction. You need to hop on the back of a trend or moment to achieve the best results – keep an eye on social media, trends and potential cultural phenomena to see what people are talking about and identify those magic moments you can use to connect with your audience. If your campaign is based around a recurring event or something similarly evergreen, that’s even better.
There’s no magic formula to working out what sort of nostalgia-based campaign will strike a chord with an audience – even perfectly-executed campaigns aren’t guaranteed to succeed. If you can offer customers that warm, fuzzy feeling within your activities and communications on a consistent basis, though, your business can only benefit and there is no reason why this cannot be a renewable, sustained method of success.