The Creative Edge

The Psychology of Nostalgia: Marketing Successfully to Millennials

April 19, 2017 / in Ardis Campbell, Blog, Marketing / by Ardis Campbell

As a teenager, I was obsessed with Pop Up Video on VH1. Each episode consisted of a handful of music videos played back to back, all from the 80’s and 90’s, and every few seconds a bubble would pop up with facts surrounding the band, the song, or (loosely) the content of the video. Looking back, I can’t imagine this was a very popular show. Certainly none of my friends were watching it. But it was perfect for a scrawny, nerdy girl in Arlington, TX with an undying love for soft rock. I still believe Todd Rundgren is a national treasure, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

VH1's Pop Up Video logo

When researching this blog, I found out that Pop Up Video was the highest rated show on VH1 from 1996 through 1998. And it makes sense. People love feeling nostalgic. Stranger Things is a perfect example. Or go to your neighborhood bar on Thursday nights and catch a local “comedian” hosting a trivia night. You could even log into Facebook to see your “On This Day” memory! And #omg #tbt, y’all.

Nostalgia Marketing: What It Is and Why It Works

What is it about nostalgia that gives us the warm fuzzies? I imagine it has something to do with going back to a simpler time in our brains. These references are linked with fond memories, like a rose-colored Instagram filter. It’s a nice escape for a minute. As it turns out, I’m right! In a report titled “Nostalgia: A Neurospsychiatric Understanding,” Alan R. Hirsch describes it as “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory — not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out.” I’m really smart, you guys.

For a more info on the psychology of nostalgia – read here!

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Brands have long relied on nostalgia to create an emotional connection with consumers. It’s called “nostalgia marketing.” No really, that’s the technical term. Studies have shown that this form of marketing works especially well with Millennials. As Tanya Dua, writer for Digiday, notes, “Consensus is that Millennials have a stronger affinity to the sentiment than previous generations: Nostalgia not only evokes better times — and a sense of belonging — but also makes younger consumers feel more fashionable.”

As the first generation of digital natives, many Millennials have never known a world without the internet or social media. They’re more connected than any other generation and beyond that, it seems that feelings of social connectedness brought on by nostalgia make people more apt to part with money — a.k.a., purchase things. In yet another study, researchers discovered a possible reason why. “One reason could be that feeling nostalgic weakens a person’s desire for money. In other words, someone might be more likely to buy something when they are feeling nostalgic,” write authors Jannine D. Lasaleta (Grenoble École de Management), Constantine Sedikides (University of Southampton), and Kathleen D. Vohs (University of Minnesota).

retro camera
Nostalgia Marketing and Video

So essentially, nostalgia makes people feel good, feel more connected with others, and more willing spend dollars. Given this info, it seems obvious why brands would want to jump on the nostalgic bandwagon. And boy howdy, have they ever. 2016 brought us a resurgence of Nintendo’s Pokémon, Coca Cola’s Surge, and Crystal Pepsi. I’ve even heard rumblings they may start manufacturing Clearly Canadian again.*


*If anyone has any information regarding this please contact me immediately.

This type of marketing makes even more sense when you consider that same group of people connecting to these ads can share them with their network with just a click of a button. When you make an emotional connection to a memory, you want to relive it as a shared experience. This can be evidenced by the number of friends who share Sex and the City Buzzfeed quizzes on my Facebook wall. (I’m a Carrie, in case you were wondering.) Now, if only Manolo Blahnik would tap into this nostalgic marketing, those 4 inch heels would be flying off the shelves.

If you want to give nostalgia marketing a try, think about the best way to create an emotional connection. For many, video is a great way to generate those warm fuzzies through a compelling storyline (think the new Colonel Sanders KFC campaign). I mean, just think of how much video Millennials consume on a daily basis!

Nostalgia marketing isn’t just for Millennials. Most humans experience the feeling of nostalgia. As frequently as once a week, some studies show. The film industry has been especially smart about marketing to the Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers with a resurgence in the Marvel and Star Wars film franchises. Who wouldn’t want to join the resistance?


So why not jump on the nostalgia bandwagon? Investing in the past can help your business’s future *smiley face emoticon*.

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About Ardis Campbell

With a background in e-commerce, television and commercials Ardis is equipped to tackle any production regardless of scale. She loves the storytelling as well the logistical aspects of production. Oh, and the occasional cat meme. She once interviewed Bradley Cooper.

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1 thought on “The Psychology of Nostalgia: Marketing Successfully to Millennials”

  1. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thanks, However I am having difficulties with your RSS. I don’t know why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting the same RSS problems? Anyone who knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

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