Does nostalgia in advertising influence our perception of a brand?

Nostalgia has become a hugely popular marketing strategy for brands seeking to forge an emotional connection with the consumer. Now, companies are tapping into positive memories from the past, with beloved figures, retro graphics and favourite products to create positive brand association.

Nostalgia and the psyche

Adidas recently relaunched its iconic Gazelle trainers in collaboration with Kate Moss, who fronted the original ads 25 years ago. Now, playing on the explosive triumph of her career, the sporting brand has been able to claim that success as its own.

After a brief stint as The Cooperative, Co-op announced it was reverting to its 1960s logo last May, to distance itself from being perceived as corporate and to “reflect and reaffirm its community values” that made it such a success in the first place.

And last year brought the return of Carlsberg’s ‘probably’ campaign after ‘That calls for a Carlsberg’ failed to make the same impression. The slogan was such a hit the first time around it’s a wonder the beer brand ever dropped it, and the relaunch led to a massive boost in brand awareness.

If your content can get people feeling nostalgic, it will also get them feeling good by extension. And when it comes to growing a loyal following, creating content that makes them feel good is a winning strategy.


Throwback Thursdays dominate social media accounts, with over 250 million pictures associated with it online. Instagram, Facebook ‘On This Day’ and apps like Timehop are allowing users to relive and share memories, which has been found to have the ability to increase self-esteem and social connectedness.

Creating the feeling of nostalgia has become a very effective social media marketing tool when trying to increase engagement levels, but one of the key things that separates #tbt success and failure lies in whether the brand is able to retell its story for a new generation.

The Levi’s website has a channel dedicated to Throwback Thursday. And it’s not just old pictures of Levi’s iconic advertising campaigns. What’s great about the initiative is that fans are able to learn a thing or two about the clothing maker, as every throwback post comes with a short story. The result is a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.

And now brands are prompting customers’ to co-create nostalgic content too, making a key connection between their past experience and that of the brand.

Experiential marketing

Marketing is moving beyond communicating the functional benefits of products to forging emotional connections. Southern Comfort doesn’t promote how it tastes—it promotes how it makes you feel. It makes you feel bold, spirited and audacious. Yes, its beach ad is a little hit-or-miss, but it evokes a nostalgic recall of holiday bliss.

In much the same way, Dove doesn’t sell soap—it sells self-confidence. If you use Dove, it’s not because you think it’s the best soap for cleaning your body, it’s because your subscribe to how it makes you feel as a person. And having that brand in your home is an extension of the values you aspire to.

As experiential marketing grows, it’s likely brands will incorporate the senses more frequently as they attempt to capture attentions and evoke nostalgia.

Personal connections

Traditionally, marketers have painted broad strokes of nostalgia of a certain era. But today, it’s possible to bring customers back to their very own memories from earlier years.

One example is Arcade Fire’s 2010 personalised music video, in which viewers are asked to enter the address of their childhood homes. Then, using Google Maps images, the video appears to be set in each viewer’s hometown. The result is more searing and genuine than any generic imagery attempting to create bittersweet nostalgia for one’s childhood home.

Of course, there are less high-tech ways to use the power of the internet to personalize nostalgic advertising. Subaru’s 2012 First Car Story campaign allowed users to recreate their first car story using real-time animation, allowing them to relive the love they had for their long-lost cars.

Five things to keep in mind for a nostalgic campaign

Have a good reason for turning to nostalgia

There has to be reason for it that you can articulate before going there. Make a case based on your target audience, perceived state of mind and what worked in the past.

Make sure the memories you evoke are positive and well-established

There’s nothing worse than launching a campaign for your audience to say ‘I don’t get it’. Just a little research can help you get your campaign right on the mark.

Incorporate a knowing tone

That’s why Radio Shack’s Super Bowl spot was effective: it acknowledged how out of touch the brand had become in a light, tongue-in-cheek way.

Get your timing right

Consumers tend to be in a more nostalgic mindset during the holidays, when the times encourage us to think about family and tradition. Keep mentions topical too.

Shake things up a little

Take what’s old and make it new again, tap into consumer excitement with the feeling of “I remember those!”, but add a unique twist to keep it fresh.