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Nostalgia Sells and Everyone Is Buying

Most modern marketing campaigns focus heavily on the future, suggesting the excitement that tomorrow might bring.


In the present reality of a lingering pandemic, social unrest, and economic upheaval, thinking of tomorrow can encourage anxiety more than it does excitement.


Struggling to captivate customers with traditional marketing strategies, innovative brands are looking for inspiration from the past to engage with consumers in new ways through a concept called nostalgia marketing.


Instead of anticipating the next great thing, nostalgia marketing urges consumers to revel in the memory of things that used to be great. During this unprecedented time of uncertainty, this is clear: nostalgia sells, and everyone is buying.


An antidote to the present

Nostalgia marketing is a highly effective business strategy that draws on sentimental messaging and retro products to connect with customers emotionally.


By tapping into positive cultural memories from earlier decades, brands can captivate the attention of a broad audience of diverse customers.


Whoever said “nostalgia is the vice of the aged” clearly was not living in 2021. Today, consumers of all ages crave familiar products and advertising, hoping for the opportunity to relive the past, when life was happier and less complicated.


Nostalgic retail helps people reconnect with themselves by cutting through the noise of the present and reminding them of who they once were.


For these brief moments, familiar products serve as a potent antidote to the anxiety of the present by invoking comforting memories from a simpler time.


Broad appeal 

The appeal of nostalgic retail spans generations, attracting consumers of all ages. By tapping into positive cultural memories from earlier decades, brands are capturing the interest of consumers who are eager to relive their glory days, whenever those days were.


While the target market certainly includes members of the Boomer generation, younger generations are now making up most of the customer segment.


Nostalgia-centric campaigns have proven to resonate strongly with the millennial audience who would prefer a romanticized version of the past to the reality of coming of age in a time of seemingly unrelenting, widespread social and economic turmoil.


Interestingly, the nostalgic retail trend has also gained significant traction with Gen Z consumers, who, despite never enjoying the authentic experience, share the desire for childhood nostalgia.



Trapper-Keeper Trapper Keeper—an 80s school staple—made its way back into the lockers of today’s students | Courtesy of Mead

Brands who can present a compelling blast from the past have an excellent chance of connecting with their customers on an emotional level—a feat long considered the holy grail of marketing.


Leveraging emotional associations lends some relatability to help humanize brands making it easier to forge meaningful and long-lasting relationships with their customers.


Embracing the trend

Connecting the past and the present is tricky, but success is possible. A nostalgic marketing campaign must come from a place of authenticity.


Rushing to implement a retro strategy without thoughtfully blending positive aspects of the past into a modern context can make brands appear seriously out of touch and cause significant reputation damage.


The key to creating a noteworthy campaign is to use nostalgia as an emotional hook to attract attention while offering a modern experience that feels familiar. Successfully executing this strategy quenches two inherent human instincts, a desire to feel happy and an attraction to novelty.


Brands that combine past sentiments and contemporary attitudes presented through authentic storytelling on modern marketing channels can delight a broad audience of eager consumers.


Better than the original

In the last few years, the nostalgic retail market experienced a boom. Brands with a finger on the pulse of pop culture have been finding ways to use nostalgia to drive energy to modern campaigns.


The result has produced beautiful new interpretations of old favorites by leveraging the latest technology. One market that has maximized the power of nostalgia with tremendous success is the gaming industry.


In 1987, current-day millennials met a hero named Link as he fought to save the magical land of Hyrule alongside a goddess princess—her name was Zelda. Thirty-one years later, Nintendo released “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” a revolutionary new game for the Nintendo Switch.


The game immediately became the Zelda franchise’s biggest commercial success and, as of 2021, is Nintendo’s fourth highest-selling game of all time, with over 23 million copies sold worldwide.


Following its critically acclaimed release in 2017, it won the prestigious Game of the Year present by The Game Awards. “Breath of the Wild” is considered by many to be Nintendo’s masterpiece and commonly referred to as one of the greatest games of all time.


The past is present 

Sentimental retail products are currently seeing massive growth because people are anxious about the present and future due to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.


The past is safe and entirely predictable, drawing consumers to products that remind them of when life wasn’t so complicated. Marketers have found that nostalgia tends to increase during times of accelerated disruption in life and national upheaval, and the pandemic is no exception.


People yearn for a time other than the present and want to avoid feeling anxious about the future; they want something they can understand, products and experiences that are straightforward, tangible, and simple.


While the difficulties of living in the COVID-19 era catalyzes the nostalgic retail resurgence, several other modern trend cycles have contributed to the strong consumer desire for retro products and storytelling.


An increasing global behavioral shift to conscious consumerism and the rejection of modern throw-away culture has driven consumers’ interest in authentic stories and quality products. Consumers expect more personalized and genuine marketing communications in the era of digital marketing (and ad overload).


Nowhere are real stories and authentic communication more valued than with the Instagram crowd. Like brands, success as an influencer requires establishing a genuine relationship of trust with loyal follers.


Nostalgia retail presents Influences an opportunity to promote products they feel deeply connected to and share positive memories of the past, sparking conversation with like-minded followers.


At the intersection of the ongoing COVID pandemic, global social and economic turmoil, and changing consumer buying habits exists the perfect environment there is the perfect environment for nostalgia retail to thrive.


Considering it is hard to imagine any of these factors changing soon, there begs the question: will nostalgic retail ever stop trending?


Reflecting back

Nostalgic retail provides anxious consumers with an antidote to the reality of the present. When the only thing that seems certain in the world is uncertainty, smart brands have found innovative ways to build genuine connections with consumers.


Using authentic storytelling, brands create an emotional bond with their customers by offering familiar products that make us feel safe with a modern twist that piques our curiosity for new and exciting things.


Successfully appealing to the dual desires of consumers can have tremendous results for a brand that offers long-term benefits.


As the world continues to rebuild and begins to emerge from the insolation of the global pandemic, now is the perfect time for brands to capitalize on the nostalgic retail trend. Nostalgia sells, and right now, everyone is buying.