Nostalgia is a powerful thing. In fact, research shows that nostalgia gives our lives a sense of continuity and meaning as we get older. The first flip phone as a teenager, the AIM screen name or that slap wristband from middle school—these memories that take us back to a seemingly simpler time when we were younger and things were easier. From television show reboots to retro fashions and throwback packaging, what’s old is becoming new again in a big way and this trend is affecting consumer behavior. A study from the Journal of Consumer Research found that when someone thinks about the past and feels nostalgic, he or she is more likely to spend money or donate to a cause. Consumers are willing to pay even more for products than consumers who are thinking about the present or future.
These findings have sparked eagerness among marketers to bring nostalgic feelings to life through experiences, especially those targeting the ever-so-unimpressed millennial generation. Marketers can successfully incorporate nostalgia into future experiential campaigns.
Draw people with an emotional blast
Nostalgia is one of those emotions that quickly affects people in a positive manner—by way of happy or funny memories—immediately creating a magnetic force between the person and the experience or event footprint.
Recently, Time described the Saved by the Max restaurant pop-up (inspired by the ’90s television show “Saved by the Bell”) saying “…[it] is a must-see for fans of the show and for anyone suffering from acute ’90s nostalgia.” Buzzfeed proclaimed that it was “every ’90s kid’s dream come true.” New Balance also capitalized on the trend by partnering with Footlocker to produce a pop-up activation featuring event tickets in the form of slap bracelets, a Nerf wall, a VHS installation and even a mock Blockbuster store. These types of activities get people buzzing about when they used to go to Blockbuster or enjoyed playing with Nerf products. Putting your brand at the center of these conversations and memories immediately draws the consumer in, allows them to engage in a personal way and creates talk value that is sharable and organic.
Add a modern twist
Earlier this year, KFC celebrated its $3 famous bowls by bringing back the iconic bowl haircut. KFC partnered with current hairstyle designers to create five “stylish, modern-day takes on the bowl cut hairstyle.” The haircut options had funny names that tied back to the brand, which utilized a stylish salon in Brooklyn to give free cuts for a limited time in exchange for a free KFC gift card. A digital lookbook extended the promotion outside of New York and the salon and stylists gave the old-school trend a fresh spin. Whether they decided to take the plunge with a new ‘do or not, this clever approach certainly grabbed people’s attention by referencing a singular trend and making it relevant to today’s consumers. The key takeaway here is to revisit the familiar with a new take on it.
Each generation responds differently
Retro-themed events aren’t always the answer—and can be tricky when targeting a wide range of consumers. It’s imperative to know your audience and ensure that a nostalgia theme will work for the entirety of your target. For example, what brings a smile to a Gen Xer might get an eye roll from a millennial and even damage your credibility with that group. Understanding culturally relevant moments from each generation is key when deciding to utilize nostalgia in your next experiential campaign, or not. As a marketer, you don’t want a nostalgia play to make your brand seem out of touch. Shutterstock advises that “vintage now is about mixing different eras and styles to create a mood of authentic-feeling nostalgia.”
When Werther’s Original recreated an experience dedicated to the previously popular board game Candy Land, there seemed to be a strong leaning toward a game that millennials remember from their childhood but with a candy that was predominantly associated with their grandparents. Perhaps the intent was to gain new millennial brand fans, but consumers need to feel the brand is relevant to them. Bottom line: don’t force it. Incorporate a nostalgic hook when it feels true to the brand, the cultural reference and the target.
Don’t overlook the details
When laying out an old-school sensorial vibe, every detail in the activation—from the specific font used to color palettes to the right original retro posters or oldies music playing in the background, like in the film “Crazy Rich Asians”—should ladder up to the exact visuals consumers will remember from their past. This makes the experience feel authentic, which is well-received by your audience. If you miss the mark, it can have a negative effect on the consumer experience. Even beyond a brand activation, this is an important thread to pull through your overall campaign. For example, if you plan to utilize an infographic in your PR efforts, ensure that it has the same vintage look and feel, or the fonts and images align with your activation. Similarly, don’t forget to make your experience shareable through nostalgic social content (Hello grainy photo filter and “take me back” hashtags.)
With new platforms to celebrate past decades emerging like NostalgiaCon (which is expected to draw an estimated 30,000 attendees to Southern California this summer) or the revival of vinyl records (sales have climbed for the 13th consecutive year to more $14.3 million), the nostalgia phenomenon is showing no signs of slowing down. So, watch your favorite TV series reboot and let the reminiscing commence. Consider it research for your next experiential campaign brainstorm.
Adrienne Cadena is president of Havas Street, the brand activation division of Havas Formula.