The marketing of nostalgia: creating connections with experiences

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Evolution from nostalgia marketing to retro-marketing. Uniting past and future by creating authentic and lasting emotional connections between brands and modern audiences


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In a market increasingly saturated with supply, it is crucial to engage people by going beyond the mere development of new products, but instead focusing on the emotions and connections they can evoke. Nostalgia plays a key role in this scenario, capable of exciting, telling and inspiring in a unique and distinctive way.

Why is nostalgia so important on a communicative level?

Emotions play a key role in guiding our actions and behaviors. They help interpret and process the world around us and are directly involved in decision-making and purchasing processes.

In particular, the emotion of nostalgia is proving to be increasingly effective when applied to marketing and branding activities and operations. The word ‘nostalgia’ comes from two Greek roots, nostos which means “return to one’s homeland” and algos which refers to pain and suffering. It is a complex emotion which in its most limited definition refers to a feeling of missing and the desire to return to a place, a situation or a past period of one’s life.

Some scholars, however, argue that there is a collective nostalgia that represents a shared desire to return to a past period even if not experienced directly, often related to significant historical and cultural events. This form of nostalgia can be seen as a way of rebuilding a sense of belonging to a social group or community.

In general, this emotion has a unique impact on each person as it is closely linked to his personal past and, in particular, to the moment in life in which that memory was formed. The process that leads to the generation of nostalgic bonds begins from youth, in which preferences are formed and strong bonds are created with specific brands and products, reaching the preference age peak around the age of 24.

The marketing of nostalgia

In recent years, nostalgic emotion has become a real strategic insight and is increasingly used as a marketing lever. Nostalgia marketing works through building a heritage of values by making use of storytelling and visual re-branding to evoke nostalgic emotions in its target audience.

This strategy aims to generate deep emotional engagement in the consumer to convey a sense of authenticity and belonging. It draws on our past loves to make a brand, product or service more attractive through its connection to the past. The secret of nostalgic marketing is not to simply replicate a particular era, but to offer consumers the key to reconciling their connection to the past with their future consumer aspirations.

For it to work, a nostalgia marketing campaign must create connections consistent with the brand’s experience or philosophy, so it cannot be a pure creative gimmick decontextualized from what are the brand identity and heritage. It is therefore crucial to carefully analyze the brand image and people’s perceptions with respect to the elements and message to be used in the communication strategy.

From nostalgia marketing to retro-marketing

The evolution from nostalgia marketing to retro-marketing represents a significant advance in brand, product, and communication positioning strategy. Although they come from a common root, the main difference between nostalgic and retro is that the latter does not simply repurpose the past, but combines it with the present to create something new and authentic.

Retro-marketing draws on an imagery, mood, or aesthetic from the past that is still vivid in the dominant culture, reinterpreting and renewing it to harness its associated values and emotions. It thus aims for a deeper engagement that goes beyond mere evocation. It is about building an emotional connection with the person, rooted in his or her memories but at the same time looking to the future, going to meet the desire for contemporary modernity and functionality.

To give an example, Netflix and Fiat 500 come in the wake of a service and product from a bygone era but updated to the present through today’s solutions and technologies. Retro-marketing thus has the distinction of having a truly broad scope; organizations can use it to redefine (or consolidate) their value, market, branding and communication positioning.

The characteristics of retro-marketing

In general, when approaching the creation of a product, service, campaign or any other activity that draws on the past, the four characteristics of the “retrò” must be considered:

  • It concerns a relatively immediate past and vivid in the memory. An analysis and active listening to the type of consumer to be attracted are therefore necessary;
  • Requires exact recall elements. The touchpoints must be designed in such a way as to directly and promptly recall the past to which they refer;
  • It refers to pop culture practices contained, therefore, in the dominant culture of a specific time, place and context;
  • It doesn’t have to do with sentimentality, but with irony, charm and eclecticism, which presupposes a meticulous choice of tone of voice and the elements to be used.

A bridge between past, present and future

The use of nostalgia is a versatile communication and positioning tool. It can be used by brands to differentiate themselves and stand out by conveying their culture and core values; it is a real opportunity to diversify their message, establishing a dialogue between past and present that resonates with authenticity and empathy.

Retro-marketing can therefore be a bridge between tradition and innovation, a way for companies to remain relevant and competitive while preserving the essence of their brand heritage. One of the most important aspects is the feeling of continuity and emotional comfort that brands can offer through a value proposition that, starting from the past, is able to produce relevant effects and changes in the present while projecting the brand into the future.

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19 April 2024 Matteo Durigon

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TAG: experience design digital marketing