Tapping into Nostalgia

Jan 25, 2024

An Emotional Hotbed for Consumers 

by Katie Lopez

Over the holiday break I spent my free time binge watching some guilty pleasures. Though I’m way past my high school prime, entire days slipped away as I immersed myself in 16-year-drama (trauma?) with shows like ’Never Have I Ever’ and ‘Derry Girls’. Growing up, taking risks, and first loves and heartbreak took me back to that emotionally rich time of my youth and had me thinking how marketers have been so successful this year tapping into those nostalgic triggers.

Researchers refer to the adolescent period I was reliving as the “reminiscence bump,” a time in which we tend to recall a higher number of vivid and emotionally significant memories, contributing to a sense of nostalgia later in life. This is a psychological phenomenon known as “rosy retrospection” in which we remember past events more positively than they may have been. Ever look back on something fondly to only be reminded by a friend what a challenging time it actually was? Thanks rosy retrospection!

Brands are no strangers to nostalgia but it certainly reached a frenzy over the last year. We saw Disney rebooting childhood classics 30 years after the original release date, social media constantly alerting us to vintage finds, retro-inspired fashion collabs, and CPG capitalizing on all of it. 

But one brand owned this trend like no other last year. Hi Barbie! The entire world was tickled (Barbie) pink. What stood out with this nostalgic offering however was their ability to so brilliantly blend the old with the new. No matter if you were 5 or 95 – the Barbie Movie tapped into emotional high-ground for people who grew up with the brand, while remaining relevant and culturally significant in today’s society. And the impact extended lightyears beyond the movie with marketing tools such as the Barbie selfie generator, which engaged consumers on a worldwide basis and reinforced Barbie’s position as a cultural icon. There were real Barbie (and Ken) dream houses in Malibu you could rent off Airbnb, licensed deals with everyone from Crocs to Funboy to NYX cosmetics, and don’t tell me I’m the only one with a ‘You are Kenough’ sweatshirt.

When it comes to packaging, the frenzy of nostalgia extended far beyond Mattel, being embraced by a record number of brands this year. While some opted to bring back past iconic designs, others leaned into design language cueing simpler times, using flat colors paired with thick fonts and bold messaging that telegraph timeless appeal of the “good old days.”

Bottom line, nostalgia never seems to disappoint. It’s an exceptional marketing strategy due to its ability to attract consumers to products while also cultivating a strong sense of familiarity, trust and loyalty. No doubt, consumers will continue to be drawn to the emotional storytelling and resonance of past eras, and brands that lean into this insight, while finding ways to weave in modern relevance, have the power to become an influential force in our culture and appeal to a broad range of society. 

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