23rd May2024

Has Nostalgia Marketing Failed Us?

by James Smith

Marketers’ efforts to appeal to their audience underwent an ironic (yet somehow inevitable) twist during the last decade, when ‘old’ became ‘new’ again. Known as nostalgia marketing, this trick leverages good feelings from our memories to encourage equally good feelings about a product. It can be anything – a game, a film, a person, even a place or a time – and can be connected to items as diverse as soft drinks and tech.

Nostalgia marketing is especially useful against millennials, as they’ve grown up in two different places in time – a more analogue era before the internet, followed by the high-tech one we know today, dominated by social media and the internet. For younger people, the latter is all they’ve known. With all that in mind, it can seem a little cynical. Our memories and feelings aren’t for sale – and there are some we’d rather forget. Still, nostalgia marketing has its uses – but is it failing us?

Digital Reinvention

It’s not always possible to rekindle a love for past things. A good example is video game arcades. These parlours with glow-in-the-dark carpets lost a battle against home consoles in the 1990s, and only ‘survive’ today as an occasional novelty. The same is true of activities like pinball, which has proved resistant to digital reinvention. It’s a tactile game of metal and glass, after all. Pinball has found a small presence at the online casino Fortune Jack, a site that’s also trying to reinvent blackjack and roulette with ‘live’ games. Fortune Jack carries 3 Devils Pinball, which offers players a mix of slots gameplay and retro flipper action. The Casino Stake review site indicates that Fortune Jack’s fellow operators, like Vegasland, are also making a success of nostalgia marketing. Vegasland has several officially licensed The Goonies slots.

Scrubbed Away

The problem with nostalgia marketing is that some of its effects have been scrubbed away by overuse. For example, The Drum writes that just three of the forty movies released in 2023 were based on new material. The rest were remakes, reboots, and sequels. Marketers have a growing need to ‘connect’ with an audience personally due to their dislike for faceless, anonymous communications. As nostalgia is designed to elicit an emotional reaction, it’s easy to see why marketing infused with ancient pop culture is popular. It can be exhausting for consumers to revisit the same ground, though, especially when older ideas are now so common to the present that progress seems non-existent. Equally, a reliance on nostalgia can make brands seem lost in time.

As hinted at earlier, much of this is generation-specific. Millennials, a group that only holds a fraction of the wealth of older people, retreat into nostalgia because they can’t reach traditional milestones like buying a house. The Drum calls this “arrested development.” Of course, nobody can live on nostalgia alone, so we might see less of it in marketing in the future, especially as those most susceptible to it – millennials – grow older.


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