Confession: I hate being called a “millennial.” Something about the term feels so juvenile, bringing to mind teenagers with loads of babysitting money just itching to be spent.

Yet all of my resistance goes out the window the moment a brand uses something from the ’90s in their marketing efforts. If you manage to work the DuckTales theme song into your campaign, I’ll pretty much hand over the PIN to my debit card.

In reality, I’m the prime demographic for marketers leveraging nostalgia marketing for millennials. Now that me and other ’90s kids have a steady flow of reliable income, it seems like every brand is gunning for our money using memories from childhood.

It’s not exactly a surprise, either. The millennial demographic is predicted to have a combined purchasing power of $2.45 trillion world wide by 2015. That’s a huge amount of spending cash for a group with surprisingly low levels of brand loyalty. In fact, 78 percent of millennials say that brands must work harder to earn their loyalty than that of their parents’ generation.

In order to earn that elusive millennial loyalty, many brands are turning to nostalgic marketing practices.

Why does it work?

Dr. Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University explains that “nostalgia allows people to use experiences from the past to help cope with challenges in the present.” This sums up perfectly why it works as a marketing tactic for millennials.

As a generation, we are thought of in terms of massive spending power, but we can also be hesitant to use it.

Millennials might seem a bit young to be yearning for simpler times, but it makes sense when you consider that many millennials face a 15 percent unemployment rate. Too few jobs and mountains of student debt combine to create a strong desire for happier, easier memories. This also makes millennials more willing to open their wallets in favor of a campaign that speaks to them directly.

Who is doing it right?

The key to creating a successful millennial nostalgia marketing campaign depends on a few things. More than anything, the campaign must show intrinsic knowledge of millennials without being too cheesy.

For example, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (pun definitely intended) is a product that most millennials aged out of once they finished their last college final. But since the brand was already capitalizing on the resurrected Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, Kraft decided to go after millennials specifically: Vanilla Ice.

For those of you who don’t remember, Vanilla Ice was featured on the soundtrack to the 1991 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. By selecting a millennial-centric theme for their turtle-shaped pasta, Kraft managed to appeal not just to kids, but to the millennials who are now parents.

vanilla ice

Nickelodeon also successfully capitalized on the TV-loving generation of millennials. It recently launched a TeenNick late-night lineup called “The ’90s are All That.” For those of you in my age bracket, it’s basically every cartoon we grew up on, from Rugrats to Rocko’s Modern Life.

The lineup is working for the traditionally kid-focused network, which saw a 50 percent ratings spike among viewers 18 to 35. This isn’t just a huge increase in viewership; it spells success for the network’s advertising partners, as well. The lineup even ended up on the list of finalists for Adweek’s “Best Use of Social Media for Television.”

90s all that

Product brands are capitalizing on millennials, too. Everyone’s favorite building block recently launched a nostalgic poster campaign to celebrate the 55th anniversary of LEGO. These Tumblr-based posters were based on favorite stories and movies that a lot of millennials grew up watching.

They may or may not have resulted in my cousin and I sitting at a dining room table, building a $200 LEGO VW bus while knocking on 30 years old.

lego godzilla

Make it work for your brand

Even if your brand didn’t have a major footprint in the ’90s, there are ways to work nostalgia into your campaigns. Just make sure you’re not trying too hard – millennials are quick to sniff out “imposters” when it comes to being sold to.

Here are a few sure-fire ways to capitalize on this trend:

  • Don’t Force It. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Scripted has three rules to determine whether nostalgia content marketing can work for your brand:
    1. Are millennials your target audience?
    2. Does your chosen event or style appeal to positive memories?
    3. Does it invoke emotions that you want associated with your brand?
  • Be Subtle. According to eMarketer, 61 percent of millennials would rather spend money on experiences than possessions. This means you shouldn’t beat your millennial audience over the head with logos and brand pitches. Instead, build a rich experience through storytelling.
  • Design Aspects. Before you start diving into archives for old photos, consider working millennial nostalgia marketing into simple design elements instead. Easy changes to font or color can bring on that nostalgic feeling in your audience. Weave a feeling of nostalgia into design elements of your content marketing campaigns.