Nostalgia (noun): A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

For a generation so obsessed with the future, we’re awfully smitten by the past when it presents itself to us in the right way. And nostalgia is precisely why the past still has such a strong hold on us.

Nostalgia has long been an effective marketing approach, capitalizing on people’s longing for the familiar, and sentimental propensities by giving them an opportunity to “reconnect” with fond, deeply personal memories – some of which they wouldn’t have recalled otherwise. And in an age where emotion and how something “makes you feel” is, by and large, far more crucial than its functional features, it’s no wonder nostalgia marketing is brimming with efficacy.

But perhaps one of the greatest – if not the single greatest success in nostalgia marketing history has woven itself into the fabric of society seemingly overnight: Pokémon GO.

What was once a long-dead, immensely popular childhood craze, is now the foundation for the most rapidly popular game and mobile app ever created. Why? Nostalgia.

Don’t for a second think that nostalgia’s effect is limited to a certain age group or demographic. It’s not. And Pokémon GO is glaring proof. As a 25-year-old (pretty) normal guy, I felt a bit adolescent when I finally downloaded and began playing it (I abstained for the first week, somehow). Then, after work, I began walking around near my apartment, looking for Pokémon. And on my walk, I saw everyone from pantsuit-clad female execs, to middle-aged dads, to people my age, all playing the game, all swiping concentratedly with their index fingers, catching Pokémon and looking for others nearby, like me.

But Pokémon GO isn’t the only example of nostalgia marketing being done well. Hell, its developers, Niantic, along with Nintendo, actually have both hardly done any marketing at all. Regardless, the game has marketed itself and nostalgia is indelibly at its center. But let’s talk about companies that have been a little more intentional with their attempts to use nostalgia in their marketing.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 10.51.43 AM

Image source: General Mills

Last year, General Mills introduced their “Throwback Character Collection” – the same cereals, just with their original box designs. Since the rollout, along with revamping each cereal to leave out artificial flavors and synthetic colors, GM has seen a promising increase in sales, after seeing perpetual decline the previous quarter.

Just recently, MTV announced they would rebrand “VH1 Classic” into “MTV Classic”, a channel exclusively dedicated to re-airing “an eclectic mix of fan-favorite MTV series and music programming drawn from across its rich history, with a special focus on the 1990s and early 2000s.” The hype for its release couldn’t be greater, as anticipation among Gen-Xers and Millennials continues to swell.


Image source: Daily Mail

Coca-Cola has been selling its original glass bottles for years, a decision with success that very clearly speaks for itself.


Image source: The Guardian Photograph: Coach and Disney

Other notables are social hashtags like #TBT (“throw back Thursday”) or #FBF (“flashback Friday”) – both of which we’ve utilized for several client campaigns in the past. Fashion is endlessly infused with nostalgia, with childhood cartoon icons like Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck serving as staples for apparel A-Z.

So, clearly nostalgia marketing has a place in today’s marketing and advertising worlds. Why? Because nostalgia makes us feel. It evokes a warm, cozy, familiar feeling not many other things could. The question is, where does it fit in with your brand? Does it fit at all?

It’s important to note that just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s nostalgic. And moreover, just because it’s nostalgic, doesn’t mean it’ll be effective for your marketing. The questions you should instead, be asking yourself is, “do people miss it?” and/or “do people need to remember?” If after researching you can confidently say that they do, then run with it. Just make sure you understand exactly what about it they miss, first.