The Power of Nostalgia in Advertising

As we age, our nostalgic yearnings grow, making us more receptive to advertisers and marketers use of what researchers call "a longing for positive memories from the past." This desire for nostalgia is further intensified by society's present circumstance of receding predictability and opportunity.

While science is still struggling to unravel the neuro-dynamics of nostalgia, studies have identified some cues that can be exploited, and how images and sounds from the past can create favorable attitudes about products.

Despite being obvious, this strategy taps into something fundamental about the human mind and consciousness. Every time we remember a past event, it not only evokes the earlier memory, but can re-cast the past into a more pleasing "remembered" version. Memory, thinking and feeling are an active, shaping process.

Music, Cars, Movies Live On The music, cars and movies you identified with in childhood stick with you for life. Music that was released when we were teenagers or young adults are locked into our memories forever, to release a flood of vivid memories and emotions when replayed, especially in ads. For example, people who were 23 in 1964, when the Beatles appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show," will turn 70 this year. They are a prime target for nostalgic marketing appeals.



For marketers, the key is finding the right music and images, which do not need to directly relate to their products, as long as warm feelings are stirred up. It is the emotion generated from that good feeling that influences people's evaluation of the advertised offer. Recollection provides context and context impacts on how we evaluate things.

Moreover, nostalgia can make us feel that not so much time has passed between then and now, making us feel young(er) again, that we still have a long ways to go. Nostalgia telescopes time and brings it more under our emotional orchestration.

Notaligic Case in Point - Valentine's Day Nostalgia becomes especially potent during holidays, like Valentine's Day, due to their powerful call to renew bonds. Hope is the base coin of holidays, a time of ritual, which tends to reduce cognitive complexity through one's participation in stylized and oft-repeated enactments. Through ritual, we play a mental trick on ourselves; if the ritual comes off well then we feel life will be good.

The ritual function of Valentine's Day is similar to all rituals - to make up for the past and to reaffirm the past. To show that despite the press of daily routine and slights encountered, love endures, just as it was when two hearts first met. Most of the time, we can be couch potatoes in soiled sweat-suits, but today is different, today is "romance," a time to symbolically communicate that what we felt and did "then" still lives and will endure.

There is talk of "remember when" (also a song when boomers were teens). There are flowers, signifying the bloom of spring, renewal (the olfactory sense is directly tied to memory). If allowance allows, perhaps a small diamond might appear (itself a sign of indestructibility).

The sounds, smells and other accouterments of Valentine's Day function in the service of three sentiments that make up ritual: There is a shared past. There is continuity. There is future.

Marketing Take-Away In today's environment of a perceived diminished future, playing up experiences that engender hope may be a good strategy that produces a mature outcome. A nostalgic approach might just help people see a clearer vision of what is and what is not possible.

1 comment about "The Power of Nostalgia in Advertising".
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  1. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, January 26, 2010 at 2:16 p.m.

    Bob, thanks for the reminders. As the poet Maya Angelou once noted, 'People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.'

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