If it seems like there have been a ton of retro-themed blips on our collective pop culture radars lately, you’re not imagining it. From reboots and reunions from classic 80s and 90s TV shows, to even the recent Wayne’s World and Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5-inspired Super Bowl commercials, brands are using nostalgia to get our attention for one simple reason — it works.
“Anything that brings us back to our childhood is huge right now,” said Rachel Spence, FIFTEEN’s Creative Director. “Thinking back to when we were growing up automatically instills these warm memories of a simpler time, whether they’re accurate or not. Advertisers are eager to capture those feelings and transfer them to their product or service.”
Other marketers agree. According to Fabrik, a creative agency in the UK, nostalgia inspires consumers to spend their money because it promises an immediate return in the form of happy memories and comfort. Autopilot, an Australian social media automation company, explains the ‘nostalgia marketing strategy’ as aiming to re-capture an audience’s attention by tapping into older and more familiar trends from the past.
So what is it about nostalgia that evokes these kinds of feelings?
Well, looking at the etymology of the word offers some clues. As Merriam Webster referenced, nostalgia comes from nost-, which means homecoming; and -algia, which means pain. In the 19th century, nostalgia was classified as a legitimate medical condition with symptoms ranging from “melancholy” to loss of appetite and sleeplessness, and was mostly diagnosed in soldiers fighting wars far from home. In short, they were longing for home so badly they were developing symptoms from it.
Don Draper’s iconic pitch to Kodak in “The Wheel” episode of Mad Men further romanticizes our feelings about days gone by (although we now know he took some liberties with its definition!):
Nostalgia — it’s delicate, but potent…. Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means, ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards…it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called The Wheel, it’s called The Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels — around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.
“A place where we know we are loved” is certainly somewhere we’d all like to be, and savvy marketers know that bringing us back there with retro ads, packaging and spokespeople is a slam dunk — not only for those warm fuzzy feelings, but for the automatic recognition as well.
Whether it’s for a cell phone, software, or even yogurt, kickin’ it back old school is a great equalizer and shows audiences brands can connect with them on a deeper level, something that especially resonates today. We’re all looking for ways to relieve stress these days, and being temporarily transported back to the perceived simplicity of childhood, even for just 30 seconds with a TV spot, is a much-needed brain vacation.
What are some of your favorite commercials from childhood? Learn about what’s still taking up real estate in our memories on our brand-new YouTube series, Channel 15. You can also watch some spots we’ve produced for clients, and our sizzle reel for other examples of our work.