Nostalgia By The Numbers: The Power of Reminiscent Advertising
by Gino Fanelli | published Dec. 29th, 2015
Memory is a funny thing. As a society, we are well aware that today we are in direct access to more knowledge, technology and opportunity than any other time in history. However, this doesn't stop people from staring longingly into the past with rose-tinted glasses. It would be a fruitless endeavor to try and compile every hashtag, Kickstarter, social media campaign or Tumblr account based solely around the reveling in 1990s-era nostalgia. It all boils down to this reminiscent way of thinking that, for some reason, even though we have come so far technologically, we are still missing the same type of elusive, soulful zeitgeist.
It is, of course, mostly nonsense, but this doesn't mean that sort of nostalgia is not a seriously powerful marketing tool. Before delving into what sort of tactics marketing companies use to tickle your '90s nostalgia bone, it's important to point out why such tailored marketing is necessary. Essentially, it is due to the fact that millennials have enormous buying power. As of 2015, according to a Dartmouth study, Generation Y, defined as any people born between 1980 and 2000, are responsible for a total worldwide buying power of $2.45 trillion.
Such a massive dollar amount of consumption makes millennials incredibly lucrative targets, and thus, providing those notes of familiarity can offer some benefits. Take the 2014 Kraft commercial for "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" Mac n' Cheese featuring a Vanilla Ice who has clearly seen better days. Or Pepsi's collaboration with Atari. Or any of the nearly never-ending list of celebrity cameo endorsements and nostalgic product reboots.
The goal is simply to engage targets. While there is obviously hopefulness that people watching the commercials will feel some sort of reminiscent emotion and buy the product, the real aim is brand engagement and recognition through social media. It's about keeping the company name alive and in the consumer's heart by means of a proverbial "Hey, remember me?" And, often, it is effective. For example, take a look at Coca-Cola's "Share It Forward" campaign, which quite literally told people to buy more Coca-Cola than they needed — in the classic 20-ounce glass bottles — at Wal-Mart. The result, after the four-week run of the campaign, was a 40 percent rise in sales.
However, one could easily pin these marketing campaigns as desperate. Attempting not to necessarily sell a product on its own merits, a company would rather resort to a pandering, manipulative tactic in order to attempt to convince people to buy a product based solely on sentimentality. And, based on recent sales in many of the companies mentioned, that assumption of desperation may be entirely accurate. Kraft sales in virtually every product, from Cool Whip to Mac n' Cheese, and particularly Jell-O, are on a perpetual decline. Coca-Cola sales have dropped 3 percent since 2014. Virtually all fast food joints are in some form of fiscal trouble, although Burger King is enjoying increasing sales due to the reintroduction of the early-2000-classic Chicken Fries.
Why? For one simple reason: people are eating less trash. Young consumers would rather eat local, or at least healthier mac and cheese options than Kraft. First, because better food is now cheaper and much more accessible, and second, because, following the recession, an emphasis on locality and organic, sustainable production has become a facet of the millennial consumer mindset. In retaliation, junk food purveyors opt to hijack the less conscious side of the mind, offering shining trinkets of the past in exchange for neon orange cheese products and Rafael shaped pasta portraits. It's a floundering marketing tactic, fueled by industries that are likely taking their last breaths.