The 1990s, 1980s, the 1970s and even the 1920s are making comebacks in marketing as brands lean into their heritage and memories of what felt like simpler times.
While nostalgia has long been used to connect with older brand loyalists, marketers are using new ways such as QR codes and augmented reality to reach younger audiences who may be less familiar with their products’ storied pasts.
Even with the numerous nostalgia-tinged campaigns already out there, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to try fresh approaches to looking back.
“Nostalgia is a big part of the marketing world right now partly because of how people are feeling about the pandemic and all of the uncertainty in life,” says Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Before strapping into the wayback machine, here are some things to consider.
Decide if looking back is the right move
“The real question is: to what degree is a sense of history important to your brand?” says Calkins. “There are some brands that really count on being fresh, and new and contemporary (and) it doesn’t make sense to look back in time because they’re about being new and fresh and different,” he says.
Brands presented as being of the moment may not do well leaning on their history. He offers Apple as an example. It’s 45 years old and has quite the legacy. But its marketing portrays it as being ahead of current times, not resting on the successes of the past.
Pizza Hut, meanwhile, is trying to get back to its heyday with what it calls “newstalgia.” Campaigns star actor Craig Robinson wearing a track suit that mimics the brand’s red and white tablecloths familiar to children and parents of the 1980s and 1990s. Remember those Tiffany lamps and red cups? They’re back, too.
“Rather than creating a new storyline,” says Lindsay Morgan, Pizza Hut chief marketing officer, the brand can “go back to our roots and what we’re good at.”