Seeking comfort in memory is an innately human trait, and it’s something we’ve been doing for eons. Even Odysseus used memories of home to get through tough times. Our modern trials and tribulations may not be as trying as the Trojan War, but it’s been a rough few years for lots of folks. And in tough times, nostalgia reigns supreme.
“Even though COVID-19 is almost two years behind us, we’re still seeing its effect on physical and mental health,” said Michael Boone, principal at Launch Agency. “We’ve lost loved ones, and upended our usual routines and freedoms. It’s no wonder we’re finding comfort in things from the past that made us feel safe and secure.”
That longing for the past seems to be translating into rather effective marketing creative. Last month, Pepsi unveiled its new logo, looking a whole lot like its old logo for its first rebrand since 2008, with lettering placed back inside the Pepsi globe where it lived for much of the ’80s.
What’s fueling all the nostalgia? We turned to experts from the Amp community for insights on the push toward the past.
Longing for yesteryear
Given the general state of the world—from the economy and geopolitics to climate and public health—it’s no surprise that people are pining for a simpler time.
“These days, everywhere we look, marketing evokes a sense of deja vu, with nostalgic elements of decades past finding a place in the brand worlds of today,” said Sam Zises, CEO at [L]earned Media. “Throughout all historic moments of economic uncertainty in America, we can notice an uptick in nostalgia—in turning toward comforts of the past, imaginary or real, for something stable to hold onto when the current environment feels unsteady.”
Zises pointed not only to the marketing landscape but also to entertainment more generally, with series like Amazon Studios’ “Daisy Jones & The Six” in all its Fleetwood Mac-inspired glory. “Clearly there is a desire to dive into the past in both the brands we consume and the media we digest,” he said. “Perhaps it’s a way to seek mental reprieve in a time of high-stress and information overload, or just simply the old adage, What goes around, comes around.”
As it turns out, there is some science behind that tendency to pine for the past in times of uncertainty. Discontinuities or significant life events are often a catalyst for nostalgic behavior.
“Between the polycrisis and the pandemic, the current state of the world has everything to do with the uptick in nostalgia marketing,” said Brendan Brown, senior VP of strategy at George P. Johnson. “Everything from the products we buy and stories we stream, to the sounds and styles of our time, contain echoes and iterations of the past. The ‘Stranger Things’ franchise is a standout example of ‘deep nostalgia,’ building on the retro mood and aesthetic of the show to create a rich world of nostalgic yearning.”
Hannah Schalles, senior art director at Wondersauce, pointed to prime examples of nostalgia marketing on the rise, such as Rakuten’s “Clueless” Super Bowl teaser.
"It was a highly effective and memorable campaign, with enough modern interpretations to make it feel current,” Schalles said. “Nostalgia sparks a sense of joy that I think has resonated with people across generations. Leading with a sense of humor, reminding people of simpler times, and making them feel at ease provide a dopamine hit that everyone is looking for in their day-to-day lives.”