Be it choker necklaces, Harry Potter or Pokémon, this summer has felt like a serious blast from the past. As the years go by, we all develop a certain degree of nostalgia for our younger days. The games we played, the food we ate, the music we listened to – they all make us feel something.
Aligning marketing strategies with emotion has already proven to be successful, but tapping into fond memories can be an invaluable tactic, especially for engaging millennials. From fast food and breakfast cereals to gaming systems and everything in between, smart brands are engaging through retro roots — and it’s called nostalgia marketing. Here’s a glimpse into this powerful new marketing trend: what it is, who’s doing it well, and a few tips on how best to employ nostalgia marketing tactics to energize millennials.
Brands from all industries are experimenting with nostalgia marketing — tapping into positive cultural memories from previous decades, designed to drive energy to modern campaigns. Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Lego — even Herbal Essences haircare products — are just some of the brands that are trying their hands at stepping back in time to reignite campaign strategies of the past. Whether it’s bringing Colonel Sanders back to KFC or engaging millennial gamers with a new Nintendo console, smart brands are maximizing nostalgia marketing — and enjoying tremendous results.
Unless you live under a rock, chances are you’ve heard something about the interactive mobile game that’s taking the country by storm. ‘Pokémon GO’ is an extraordinary example of nostalgia marketing done well. But — and maybe even more importantly — the app also offers great insight into the power of coupling nostalgia with modern relevance.
Why are nostalgia-centric campaigns resonating with the millennial audience? Reliving positive memories and beloved icons from the past feels good. Alongside hectic work schedules, unrelenting responsibilities, and more, fond memories make us smile — and that leaves us open to brand messaging. When we feel or care for something, we’re much more likely to act. Share a compelling blast from the past with a millennial, and you’re likely to reach them on an emotional level — the holy grail of brand marketing.
In an age of impersonal digital media, building social connectedness through nostalgia is an easy way for companies to leverage the optimistic feelings that often accompany walks down memory lane. Associating brand messaging with positive references from the 90s, 80s — and even the 70s — humanizes brands, forging meaningful connections between the past and present.
While nostalgia-centric tactics clearly have some important benefits to contribute to marketing in the 21st century, they are not without risk. Brands who rush into employing retro strategies without placing the modern world in context may be seen as out of touch — or worse, irrelevant. The key is to create an emotional hook using nostalgia while also offering something new. The perfect combination of past and present, ‘Pokémon GO’ links a beloved story with the first real-life example of augmented reality. For many, playing the game satisfies dual criteria — innate happiness and exploration into something new and exciting.
Successful campaigns take work, and without authenticity, even the best-laid plans will fall flat. How do you identify those special moments in time, those unique cultural events from the past that millennials crave? Nostalgia-centric marketing succeeds when brands keep a finger on the pulse of modern culture, listen to what people are talking about, and plug into those ideas to create new marketing campaigns. Monitor #TBT (throwback Thursday) on social-media channels and take advantage of trends.
After years of desperately trying to understand the millennial audience, marketers may have finally stumbled onto something that works. It’s hard to miss what is clearly shaping up to be one of the most exciting trends in the field of modern marketing. Done well, nostalgia marketing strikes a chord with millennials that other tactics just don’t. The best campaigns are timely and relevant but must also be authentic with a strong emotional hook to capture the heart. After all, Lucky Charms have always been magically delicious. But, seeing those blue stars and green clovers from your childhood in living color may be enough to compel you to grab the box off the shelf — and that’s brilliant nostalgia marketing at work.
Lauren Friedman, Forbes. August 2, 2016
Copyright © 2016 Forbes.com LLC. All rights reserved.