How can marketers ensure nostalgia works for them?

By Andreas Pouros | 01 Apr 2017

Brands from a variety of industry sectors are experimenting with their strategy, with many looking to the power of tapping into emotions as a way to connect. Leveraging on sentiments from the past is an effective way for brands to communicate with their audiences, as it enables them to relive memories and leaves them with that fond, familiar feeling of nostalgia.

The power of tapping into emotions has given rise to nostalgia marketing, which sees brands use a feeling of nostalgia or memories to evoke a sentimental feeling about a former time or place, in alignment with the brand in question. There have been some great examples over the last couple of years, one of the most recent notable successes being the relaunch of the Nokia 3310 at Mobile World Congress (MWC). But not all brands have a classic 'first mobile' that lets users play the coolest game ever (aka Snake). How can other brands tap into nostalgia-related emotions to drive desire for their offering?

Getting the approach right

Nostalgia marketing isn't a simple tactic - as consumers become increasingly complex, brands can't rely solely on the past to make judgements about who and what their customers want today. Post-Brexit and Trump, marketers need to be sure that their approach towards their customers is the right one, ensuring that the sense of nostalgia would be appropriate to their particular audience. A recent report from Greenlight discovered 66% of digital marketers are now questioning whether they know their audiences at all, following the rise in populist sentiment. 

The Nokia 3310 announcement at MWC was a great use of nostalgia marketing, but many saw past it as a gimmick with rumbles that once the excitement wears off, the Nokia 3310 will not fly off the shelves. Yet Pokémon Go played on that nostalgia but adapted it to who their audience is today, offering the game through augmented reality.

Introducing nostalgia without seeming dated

Similar to Pokémon Go, there are many sensible low-risk ways marketers can introduce nostalgia to campaigns without seeming dated. By looking forwards as well as backwards, marketers can incorporate some of the most modern marketing channels and methods to create a counterbalance between nostalgia and the core campaign messages. For example, the tech-savvy consumer using Snapchat filters to revisit something from a long time ago as a delivery mechanism can create that balance.

Spotify's Never Ending Story campaign didn't just run through a story everyone knows, but it continued the narrative through a modern medium, looking forwards as well as backwards. When marketers marry these two tactics they tend to transport people into the past temporarily and then bring them back to reality again to serve the intent for them, leading to a customer who has had a fantastic journey with the brand.

Don't overdo it

The John Lewis Christmas adverts immediately gives the viewers a heart-warming sentimental feeling. This is because the business introduces the right level of emotion through nostalgia in its marketing tactics, whilst feeling authentic - a tough challenge for many brands. Those who set it wrong can come across like a cheap ploy to promote its product of service, or have the opposite effect and only promote the memory rather than the brand itself.

It's imperative that the product or service has to be central to the nostalgic link, ensuring that the customer's brain is receptive to the message communicated - the sentiment is the vehicle, not the destination.

Also, the danger of marketers playing on memories too much is that they might not provide the counterbalance of being fresh, innovative and cutting edge. Nostalgia works because it outweighs what some might call today's faceless, black mirror existence. However, tipping it too far the other way will dismiss the fact that consumers are normally willing participants of the modern world and things like technological features still loom large in peoples buying decisions.

Marrying digital marketing disciplines

There are various disciplines of digital marketing that can help ensure nostalgia works in a strategic campaign. Storytelling is one of the most important skills a marketer can have and there are many great digital platforms that can assist them with this. The Carousel Ad format on Facebook and Instagram allows marketers to elegantly tell a story; it gives marketers the ability to showcase three to five images within a single advert, with each image being revealed with the brand's interaction - enough to tell a great visual story.

Creating a balance between the old and new is also important. If the content is old, the delivery vehicle has to be new. Marketers must ensure they are using the freshest channels and mechanisms. Snapchat filters are a perfect example - brands that are promoting their products using Snapchat filters cannot be considered old, tired and irrelevant, even if the nature of the content harkens back to a different time.

At the heart of everything marketers do is the customer. Whether or not they'll respond to nostalgia marketing will only be clear if brands truly know their audience. To do so, brands should make use of a Data Management Platform (DMP) as it allows them to understand who is actually responding to nostalgia-focused ads and what other digital interactions might be composed of, which as a result helps marketers to build out more effective targeting and would ultimately clarify whether nostalgia marketing truly works for their brand. 

This article was first published on the Marketing Gazette website.