December 12th, 2023

There’s A Reason Those Ads Are Pulling At Your Heartstrings: Nostalgia

There’s A Reason Those Ads Are Pulling At Your Heartstrings: Nostalgia
Tori Stein
Tori Stein
Director, Marketing

Something remarkable happened on Thanksgiving. I saw someone rewind, and replay a commercial. What makes this even more impressive is that 76% of people don’t actively watch commercials – either changing the channel, looking at their phone, or throwing on mute.

As I sat in my in-law’s house trying to decide who I wanted to win between the Lions and the Packers (I’m a Vikings fan, so, neither?), the Amazon Sledding commercial came on. 

While my husband’s aunt watched the three women on screen reclaim memories from their youth, she commented on how it reminded her of her two best friends growing up and then rewound the commercial to make others who had missed it watch.

Now, to my knowledge, she didn’t immediately buy something off Amazon. But the sense of joy she experienced in those sixty seconds completely proved why nostalgia is breaking through in creative advertising and messaging today.

From Fruit of the Loom bringing back their fruit mascots to the Barbie movie to Walmart’s Mean Girls commercials (how is Mean Girls almost 20 years old…?), we’ve seen a wave of brands and marketers turn to nostalgic advertising. I mean, even Kurt Cobain & Courtney Love’s daughter married Tony Hawk’s son.

But why are they leaning into nostalgia?

For Consumers, It Makes a Heavy World Seem Lighter

We don’t need to go into details, but the world can feel heavy sometimes. Nostalgia allows us to reminisce and reconnect with simpler times, tethering the present to cherished moments of the past.

In fact, research has shown that nostalgia can increase our sense of well-being, and make us feel more youthful, optimistic, and energetic.

According to psychology professor Krystine Batcho, “Consuming nostalgic media of all types gives us a way of thinking about who we are, and helps us make sense of our purpose in life. Familiar media from our past brings us emotional comfort, but it also meets a cognitive need: it encourages the belief that things will get better because they’ve been good before.”

We especially see this impact with Gen Z – where 37% say they feel nostalgic for the 1990s, and with Gen Z starting in 1997, most members of the generation weren’t even born yet. They crave a time before social media, and for some reason, 90s clothing trends that other generations were eager to leave behind.

For Advertisers, It Creates An Authentic Connection

By making a mass media message feel personal, brands are able to drive a relevant and authentic connection with the audience. 

With over 30 million people tuning into Fox for the game, Amazon was able to make each person watching feel as if the commercial was speaking just to them, inspiring them to think fondly of their own childhood experiences. 

In fact, according to Kantar “ads with nostalgic elements show a +15 point increase in enjoyability, with a +9 point increase in emotional connection. Smiles and music engagement also both see a +15 point increase between ads using nostalgia versus those without it. Clear proof of a powerful force in deep overall emotional connection.”

Where brands should be striving to create meaningful connections with their consumers, authentic connections also drive results. CivicScience data from May 2023 shows that more than half of U.S. adults say they are likely – either ‘extremely’ or ‘somewhat’ likely – to make a purchase when it makes them feel nostalgic for the past.

In fact, it wasn’t just Aunt Bonnie who felt a deep connection to Amazon’s ad, if Google Trends are any indication, where “amazon sledding commercial” saw a large spike on Thanksgiving.

Nostalgia in advertising, and elsewhere, won’t be going away in 2024 – as continual advancement in areas like streaming audio & TV allows access to entertainment from any time period, driving fond connections with generations past – even if we weren’t even part of them.

Tori Stein
Tori Stein
Director, Marketing
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