Nostalgic Brands are Capturing Hearts and Minds


A Nostalgic Age

As technologies continue to innovate and find new modes of connection, businesses need to move faster than the speed of light. But while moving forward is key to business success, many brands are looking backwards…and with success. Nostalgia is, no doubt, in. Bath & Body Works just announced the reintroduction of the old scents of the ’90s. The Sacramento Kings have embraced nostalgia with a new logo. Urban Outfitter’s is full of Polaroids, records, and retro cassette players. TV networks are bringing back ’90s favorites like Boy Meets World and Full House, which remind viewers of an age when scheduling a TV date with your neighbor was the norm. #TBT (throw back Thursday) continues to be one of the most trending and repetitively used hashtags on Instagram and Twitter. Even Facebook reminds us of what we were doing 10 years ago, today.

The Financial Review’s conversation around this current “Age of Nostalgia” explains it as a backlash against the fast-paced technology and the economic and political uncertainty that has left people feeling anxious about the future. The millennial generation, in particular, is longing for the familiar: the products and brands that remind them of growing up and that elicit feelings of safety, comfort, and happiness. There’s a yearning to bring back the “good old days”. The success of these brand campaigns demonstrates the power of nostalgia: this strong and sentimental longing for the past. People are literally buying into the past.

But if a brand is rooted in nostalgia, how is it positioned to evolve? Successful brands need to use nostalgic triggers to help them progress, while capturing and re-capturing the hearts of their audience. And here’s how:

Short-Term Campaigns

Nostalgia shouldn’t be a long-term strategy. Oftentimes, the most successful brand campaigns are short-lived – little reminders of a brand’s beginning and how far it has come. They make people remember why they fell in love with the brand in the first place and how that love has evolved. These campaigns conjure up happy memories that keep people loyal and connected to the brand.


Nostalgic campaigns don’t have to reach the masses. Many nostalgic brand campaigns have been most successful by targeting the millennial generation. Much of the power of nostalgic campaigns lies in how tailored their meanings are for a specific audience. Everyone has different memories associated with the brand from the past, and these independent and meaningful experiences are what make nostalgia hold such impact. Millennials are often the most connected, owning the most devices and demanding speed in every form of media. So these feelings of a slower, simpler times are often felt more acutely within this audience. At the same time, the success of a nostalgic campaign has the most potential within the millennial generation thanks to their connectivity to social media. If anything is going to go viral, millennials need to be part of it.

Rely on Established Brand Equity

In the end, most brands can’t rely on nostalgia alone. Nostalgia is a complex emotion that has to fit into the way the brand already wants to make people feel. Nostalgic triggers should add to the brand’s emotional impact, but not necessarily replace it. The most successful nostalgic campaigns are done by brands that already have established brand equity. It’s not possible to hearken to the past if that past isn’t well known, recognized, and remembered with fondness. Brands that look to the past need something of value to look back on.

Emotional Storytelling

At Emotive Brand, we know that emotive brands thrive. No matter your audience, people want to buy into brands that make them feel something. Nostalgia is a very powerful emotion, some would argue, one of the most powerful of emotions. It is also a complex emotion. Adding feelings of nostalgia into your brand story can make it more powerful, personal, and meaningful to the people who truly matter to your brand’s success. These brand champions are the ones that make your story their own. Nostalgic campaigns are often successful because they hold such strong emotional impact. They make people remember the past with joy, delight in old memories, and remind them of the “old days,” and these positive feelings are quickly associated with and connected to your brand.

The most successful nostalgic campaigns use the past to make people feel joy at remembering those times and simultaneously excited and ready to invest in the future of the brand. They take their audiences on a journey with them, and people delight in the brand as a result. A brand’s nostalgic triggers helps it connect in meaningful, momentous, and memorable ways to the people who matter to their business: past, present, and future.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco branding agency.


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