Have you ever experienced this scenario? You're in your car, tuned in to the radio, or at your desk, grooving to Spotify or Pandora when suddenly, that song starts playing. In that moment, something enchanting occurs: the world seems to dissolve around you, and like Marty McFly, you're transported back in time. You're spirited away to a bygone era, reliving the instant when that melody first struck a chord within you.
Perhaps it's a childhood birthday celebration, a school dance, or a memory from the back seat of a classic '69 Chevy Camaro. Wherever you're taken, the psychological reaction is undeniable. While a cherished song can briefly whisk you back to the "good old days," the truth remains that you can't permanently return to those times. This phenomenon is what we call nostalgia – a bittersweet emotion that has cleverly found its way into the realm of marketing.
Within the sphere of marketing, nostalgia serves as a potent tool. Through music, imagery, branding, and even celebrity endorsements, companies can tap into the past to evoke an emotional response. Think of Coca-Cola, a brand inseparably linked with the concept of nostalgia. The iconic red Spencerian script, the curvaceous plastic bottles reminiscent of vintage glass ones – this brand boldly lets its storied history shine through in its contemporary marketing endeavors.
Consider also BuzzFeed, with its myriad '90s-themed listicles meticulously crafted to tug at the heartstrings of millennials. Feast your eyes on titles like "31 Awesome ’90s Toys You Never Got, But Can Totally Buy Today" and you'll grasp their skillful use of nostalgia.
Remember RadioShack's 2014 Super Bowl advertisement? The self-deprecating spot humorously highlights the company's struggle to keep up with the times, encapsulated in the line, "The ‘80s called … they want their store back." Throughout the commercial, iconic '80s figures are seen raiding a RadioShack store, including Hulk Hogan, Mary Lou Retton, Erik Estrada (Ponch from CHiPs), the California Raisins, and even ALF makes an appearance. RadioShack's aim was unmistakable – to transport viewers to a different era, a goal they undoubtedly achieved.
But why did they choose the nostalgia route? And as marketers, what advantages come from invoking nostalgic sentiments in our target audiences? To address these inquiries, let's delve deeper into the essence of nostalgia and explore its psychological effects.
Back in the 17th century, a Swiss doctor named Johannes Hofer introduced the term "nostalgia." At the time, Hofer viewed nostalgia as a neurological ailment afflicting Swiss mercenaries far from home. His explanation? The "continuous vibrations of animal spirits" within the brain, a fanciful way of attributing the condition to obscure causes.
Another prevalent theory of that era attributed Swiss soldiers' nostalgia to brain and eardrum damage from excessive exposure to the clanging of cowbells in the Alps. (In hindsight, less cowbell might have been the prescription back then.)
Today, we understand that nostalgia isn't the result of brain demons or cowbells. It extends beyond homesick Swiss soldiers, manifesting globally and even in children as young as 7, who can nostalgically reminisce about past vacations and birthday parties.
Modern research has unveiled that nostalgia often stems from events that were personally meaningful and involved cherished individuals like friends, family, and significant others. Consequently, occasions such as holidays, weddings, graduations, and birthdays – moments enriched by close relationships – serve as common "triggers" for nostalgia.
Yet, knowing the memories we're prone to evoke only partially unravels the nostalgia puzzle. The question remains: What instigates nostalgia? What prompts us to embark on a mental voyage back to our past experiences?
Sensory stimuli, such as a specific aroma or the melody of a particular song, can trigger nostalgia. Social interactions, including reunions with friends or family, also wield this power. Reconnecting with old friends through platforms like Facebook contributes to nostalgic sentiments. Even tangible objects like old photos and family heirlooms have the capacity to evoke nostalgia.
However, research underscores one trigger that stands above the rest as the primary cause of nostalgia: negative emotions. To be precise, loneliness reigns as the most prevalent negative emotion linked to inducing nostalgia.
Considering loneliness's role as a catalyst for nostalgia, one might assume that the experience of nostalgia is unpleasant. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Although often ignited by negative emotions, nostalgic memories generally bring happiness, offering an array of psychological benefits, including:
In essence, reliving joyous moments from the past can uplift your present state of mind. Given that these cherished recollections often involve close relationships, nostalgia serves as a reminder of the care and love surrounding you, reestablishing your sense of belonging within a larger social network. In a way, nostalgia acts as a psychological shield, safeguarding you from negative emotions by rekindling memories of happier times.
From a marketing perspective, harnessing nostalgia becomes a compelling strategy. Content that induces nostalgia not only uplifts people's spirits but also cultivates positive feelings. Establishing such a connection can be instrumental in cultivating a loyal following of individuals who hold your business in high regard. In this light, creating content that evokes feelings of happiness emerges as a winning approach.