Troy Allen is the founder and CEO of Rising brands. He is an expert in branding, design and strategy.
It’s amazing how simple things can bring back childhood memories and take you back to a familiar place in time. Not sure what I mean? Try holding a No. 2 pencil under your nose.
For me, one whiff of a freshly sharpened writing utensil immediately teleports me back to my high school days in Ohio. I sit in the back row, young and easily distracted, drawing David Lee Roth’s Eat them and smile cover art in one of my textbooks. Ah, memories.
Chances are, that same smell has a strong effect on you, too. The excitement and wonder you knew as a child will soon return. And you want to stay there for a while. What I describe is the power of nostalgia. Memories, especially ones evoked by stimulating your senses, can be a powerful force. They grab you and resonate on a very personal level.
And if you run a business that sells products or services, this concept could be your new best friend – think of it as a Care Bear with a dollar sign on its stomach.
Fits perfectly: the psychology of nostalgia
Few things are as emotionally gripping as a nostalgia-driven experience. That’s not speculation. It’s science. In studies, when researchers trigger memories through sensory experiences (think: sights, sounds, smells, etc.), the effects appear to be both powerful and positive.
In one set of experiments, a group of random participants listened to a playlist of old songs they all liked. The result? Subjects reported a greater sense of social connectedness and a major boost in self-esteem. But most notably, they left feeling more optimistic than when they arrived.
That last point represents an important discovery. It means scientists can not only link nostalgic experiences to happy moments in our past, but also as a co-author of the study Tim Wildschut said, “Nostalgia has the ability to facilitate perceptions of a more positive future.”
If nostalgia-driven experiences can lead us to fondly remember yesterday and at the same time make us feel better about tomorrow, why doesn’t every company immerse its customers in a warm bubble bath of pleasant memories?
According to Clay Routledgewho has studied the psychology of nostalgia for 20 years, “I’ve heard business analysts and leaders argue that while nostalgia can help some companies sell a range of products, it’s ultimately bad for business and the economy.”
In other words, CEOs and CMOs worry that tying their brand to the past will make people think they’re rusty, dusty, and unattainable. I believe these misconceptions are not only wrong, they also cost companies a lot of money through missed marketing opportunities and lost brand loyalty.
Checkout, meet nostalgia
For ten years I have focused on turning nostalgia into a profitable business called Rise Brands. In 2013, when I was CEO of another brand strategy firm, I was extremely frustrated with my clients. In need of a healthy distraction, I spent time developing and building a retro “barcade” concept that mixed my favorite childhood memories and my adult interests. The result was an immersive brand experience that surrounds customers with all the greatness of the ’80s and ’90s.
Since then I have seen firsthand how brand experiences anchored in nostalgia give people a sense of comfort and confidence. And as they record sights and sounds that feel so familiar, they feel free and inspired to create new memories.
Ultimately, nostalgia is a source of happiness for many. And happiness makes us want to share our experiences with those we love. There, in the depths of our pleasant memories and human connections, lies the brand power of nostalgia.
Like yesterday: the next generation of nostalgia
Okay, so maybe your company can’t launch an immersive entertainment experience like ours decked out in a floor-to-ceiling Lite-Brite. Don’t be put off by that.
Dozens of companies are finding ways to capitalize on nostalgia. Sony recently released the Walkman. And, at one tweet, McDonald’s elicited thousands of responses with the words “bring back _____.” Even Atari, a brand known for its 80s arcade classics, has that launched an NFT.
Whether you work for a traditional brick-and-mortar store or a fledgling digital start-up, you can benefit greatly by reminding people how much fun it is to be a kid again. To help you get started, here are three tips for tapping into nostalgic experiences.
Research your audience first. Find out which eras they are connected to and why. For example, Generation Z (born after 1997) has revived several Y2K trends as many yearn for a simpler existence before social media. And while boomers love to hark back to the defining experiences of their childhood (the ’50s and ’60s), many have an even softer spot for the moments they shared with their children (in the ’70s and ’80s).
Second, connect new ideas with old feelings. Remember, nostalgia is all about tapping into positive, familiar concepts from the past. If your brand has an interesting origin story from decades ago, customers may find comfort in reconnecting with it. But if your company has a more recent history, brainstorm ways to associate your brand’s unique features and benefits with the kind of old-fashioned feelings your customers cherish.
Finally, don’t ignore the details. When capturing the spirit and sentiment of yesterday, pay close attention to the details. Make sure your fonts, colors, phrases, and graphics are all appropriate for the era. In nostalgia marketing, accuracy is authenticity. The people you are trying to reach will notice even the slightest oversight.
As a nation, we are slowly emerging from one of the most nostalgic years in recent history. 2022, Top gun topped the box office and Kate Bush had the hit of the summer with “Running Up That Hill” from the series Stranger things. Hello, 80’s! Inspirational nostalgia surrounds us every day. If you take off your 3D glasses and look around, your brand and bottom line will think you are completely tubular for noticing.