Long before “Throwback Thursday” existed on social media, researchers had documented nostalgia’s ability to elicit emotion and increase advertising recall, however, what’s making it particularly resonant is the context of today’s era. In our increasingly stressed-out, tech-enveloped world, consumers are looking to enjoy a mental escape into rose-colored memories. Seeking a time of greater simplicity, happiness and peace of mind than the present, they’re comforted and reassured by images and iconography from the past.
Nostalgia alone, however, while powerful, isn’t enough to break through with today’s consumers. One way to break through is to connect the past to relevant aspects of your brand’s story – there’s no quicker way to the consumer’s heart than through the power of narrative. Another way to break through is personal nostalgic appeal. Research recognizes two distinct types of nostalgia: the personal and the vicarious. Vicarious nostalgia is the kind a viewer didn’t actually live through, but finds romantic nonetheless (e.g., when a Millennial sees imagery of the Woodstock era), whereas personal nostalgia showcases memes, icons and products from an era that the viewer did live through. The latter is the better route to make a visceral connection that motivates action. This is perhaps no more true than with Millennials, many of whom came of age during the high-flying ’90s and settled into young adulthood during the post-9/11, Great Recession era. And it’s likely the reason why brands as varied as Buzzfeed, Old Navy, Calvin Klein and Internet Explorer (among others) are successfully using ’90s-era nostalgia in their communication and marketing.