Why Nostalgia Sells

Fuller House, Gilmore Girls, and X-Files all have something in common: They are all television shows to air in the 1990s that have been rebooted in the past year. In fact, an event sponsored by Netflix earlier this month had thousands of people across the United States lining up at local coffee shops for a chance to get coffee from “Luke’s Diner.”

What is it about these older shows – and nostalgia – that calls for people to show up in droves to events, continue to monitor Facebook pages of television programs and movies from previous eras, and tune in to binge-watch their favorites repeatedly?

Return to a simpler time.

For many of the fans of Fuller House, Gilmore Girls, and X-Files, the television shows aired while they were tweens and teens. When the shows initially aired, viewers’ biggest worries were often “Does Samantha like me?” and “I hope I can pass this algebra test.”

In Steve Olenski’s “Nostalgia Sells: Capitalizing On The Desire For Simpler Times” (Forbes, Aug. 4, 2016), Olenski quotes Gregory Carpenter, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management:

“People become especially nostalgic when they are anxious about the present, and, especially, the future. The past is safe because it is completely predictable. Connecting with the past through familiar, loved brands transports people to another time by evoking the same feelings they experienced so long ago.”

When looking back on the sorts of things that one enjoyed while younger, it’s easy to remember a time before bills beckoned and home repairs loomed; a time before children pulled at yoga pants when Saturdays meant sleeping in and going to the mall, not doing yardwork and coaching soccer games.

Even if they weren’t fans of Transformers when the original cartoon aired, many people will still head out to see the Transformers movies because they are a leftover reminder of their childhood. Any brand that provides the individual with a connection to childhood – to that simpler time – can be a source of the type of nostalgia that leads to sales for that company.

Familiarity makes consumers comfortable.

Another reason nostalgia sells is that customers are familiar with the older shows and products. This familiarity can extend to brands from an individual’s childhood. For example, shoe brands like Keds are relying on a combination of familiarity and nostalgia to sell their shoes. People sometimes will bond over commercials they watched as children or adolescents.

John Tierney, in his article “What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows” (NYT, July 8, 2013), writes:

“Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.”

This familiarity can give content marketers and those brands an easy frame of reference when working with clients and customers. When used right, nostalgia can become a powerful selling tool.

Use nostalgia in content creation.

Nostalgia is a useful tool when creating content. Not only does it grab the attention of readers that may be interested in your products and services, but it gives you a platform from which you can start talking to your intended audience.  You can play off established storylines and characters to help draw in the attention spans of those to whom you’re wishing to speak.

Be specific about your target market.

When creating buyer personas and avatars, it’s important to understand the target market to whom you are selling your brand. Are potential buyers Gilmore Girls fans or did they watch Growing Pains as adolescents? What toys did they enjoy as children? Will they be likely to purchase some of the same or similar toys for their own children now that they are parents? These are all questions that can aid when you’re creating content or a marketing plan for a new product.

When should you  hold back from the appeal to nostalgia?

Nostalgia can quickly bleed into overkill. If you’re appealing to a sense of nostalgia, but you haven’t a reason to be doing so, you won’t appeal to the target market you’re looking for. Instead, people may come to your content and wonder why it is the article exists on your page. While appealing to a reader’s nostalgic leanings can be helpful, it can be harmful if it comes off as a non-sequitur and harm potential client and customers’ views of your business.

Nostalgia is a powerful selling tool.

On October 5, 2016, Netflix chose over 200 coffeehouses nationwide to be transformed into “Luke’s Diners.” This was in honor of the sixteenth anniversary of the series premier of Gilmore Girls and in preparation for the release of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Each of the shops that participated reported long lines and excited fans.

Nostalgia can be a very powerful selling tool if it’s used correctly. To harness the power of nostalgia in your business’s marketing efforts, here are some guidelines:

  • Make sure references are relevant. It’s one thing to be a coffee shop participating in Luke’s Diner. It’s another thing entirely to try to sell shoes by mentioning Stars Hollow.
  • Nostalgia can be a great source for content ideas. For example, if you own a coffee company, it might make sense to have a blog post about Lorelai Gilmore’s coffee-drinking habits.
  • When appealing to nostalgic shows and movies, stay away from spoilers. It’s one thing to reference Kimmy Gibbler or Pretty in Pink’s It’s another thing to spoil a plot.
  • Don’t pick obscure references. It makes sense for an auto shop to talk about Knight Rider’s Kit or the Back to the Future DeLorean or even Christine. It doesn’t make much sense to point to a car that made a 2-minute appearance in a B movie 200 people saw.
  • Stick with your target audience, and don’t jump references. Don’t make a nostalgic reference to All My Sons in the same post where you’re trying to capture the attention to those who are Fuller House
  • Don’t rely solely on nostalgia to sell your products or services. If you don’t have a strong concept to begin with, it will be difficult to sell, even when you do appeal to nostalgia.

If done correctly, nostalgia is a very powerful selling tool. If not done correctly, overused, or misused, nostalgia can backfire on your company’s objectives.

Ronda Bowen – Content Creator

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