Why Nostalgic Marketing Campaigns Work

Posted on May 18, 2017 | Updated on January 25, 2023

Nostalgic marketing campaigns make consumers yearn for the past. Successfully intertwined nostalgia utilizes a design, theme or overall aesthetic reminiscent of a comforting past, sweeping today’s audience into an idyllic state of mind. An ideal moment of nostalgia could range from moments of carefree childhood to something more specific, like the technology-free comforts of a different century.

In marketing, there is often an aim for universally-felt nostalgia. The marketers want as many people as possible to experience the effect of their nostalgia campaign. They can link nostalgia’s many positive feelings with whatever is being marketed.

Research has shown feelings of nostalgia have a number of positive effects, including increasing positive feelings toward out-groups. Positive association and nostalgia tend to go hand-in-hand, which is why marketers cherish the power of nostalgia in their campaigns.

When evaluating why nostalgic marketing campaigns work so well, it’s worth digging into some successful nostalgia-friendly advertising campaigns. They range in tone from humorous to wistful. All are packed a memory-rewinding punch that transports viewers to a time of more carefree and idyllic tranquility:

Spotify’s NeverEnding Story Revival

Courtesy of Giphy

Another favorable aspect of nostalgia is it’s generally a shared experience. For example, ‘80s movies often invoke a comforting feeling of childhood among people who, at the time, were just being introduced to storytelling in a grandiose, enthralling way. For those in their 30s, a particularly lucrative market, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t associate the ‘80s with some sort of childhood nostalgia.

With this 30s-age group being a strong market force, it was a wise choice for music streaming service Spotify to base a marketing campaign around a popular ‘80s film: The NeverEnding Story. This 1984 fantasy film is a cult-favorite, and many people bond over their love of this timeless adventure story.

Well aware that 30-somethings are a target audience for streaming music, Spotify’s nostalgic marketing campaign created an homage to the film, even casting its original actors. And so, they brought back Noah Hathaway as Atreyu and Alan Oppenheimer as Falkor’s voice.

The ad picks up right where the film left off, wonderfully employing wistful nostalgia to a tee. As they fly through the clouds, Atreyu says “can’t believe people still listen to this song!” as Falkor agrees.

The music is timeless and so are nostalgic films. Spotify hit a home run by to appealing to its target demographic childhood nostalgia.

Adobe and Bob Ross

Courtesy of Giphy

Per Google Trends, Bob Ross has seen a steady increase in interest since 2004. A surge in popularity for the late artist was apparent on YouTube, Reddit and other avenues, including Netflix, which added his shows last year. So, combine this interest among newer generations with an active nostalgia among older ones, you’ll have a great piece for a nostalgic marketing campaign. Adobe agreed.

Adobe and their ad agency, Lekker Media, sought to replicate Bob Ross’s gentle, intelligent feel in their nostalgic advertisement. While Ross is largely irreplaceable, Lekker really paid attention to the details with the ad.

Chad Cameron, who played Ross in the ad, channels Ross’s relaxed demeanor with precision, right down to his vocal tone and movements, as he paints a gorgeous portrait using Adobe’s software. When they were growing up, everyone wanted to be Bob Ross — or just hear his voice — and Adobe offered this up to their consumers on a platter. Be Bob Ross — with a tech twist.

Sunny Delight’s ‘90s Revival

Courtesy of Giphy

People who grew up as ‘90s kids are another prime market. Many of them are familiar with Sunny Delight ads in the ’90s. They show a group of energetic kids returning home after a day of fun, ecstatic that their mom filled the fridge with ample bottles of SunnyD orange drink. The sugary, orange-y goodness is synonymous with childhood for many. As a result, it makes sense that a recent revival looked toward this precise feel for their campaign.

Their 2015 rollerblade ad shows the same “kids,” now grown up, in a very humorous way. The “kids” come in excitedly to find a maternal figure annoyed rather than comically ecstatic. “Look, I can’t do this anymore,” she sighs. “No! You and your friends have been doing this for 20 years. You’re 36 — you need a job!”

It’s a funny, tongue-in-cheek ad that blends nostalgia with modern humor. Anyone who’s watching and remembers SunnyD ads will instantly associate with a more carefree childhood.

Microsoft’s Award-Winning ‘90s Glorification

Courtesy of Giphy

Microsoft is already placed in the hearts of many ’90s kids, whose first computers contained the Microsoft logo. As such, it’s apt the ad begins with “You might not remember us, but we met in the ’90s.” From there, it shows a series of ’90s nostalgia bliss, including an Oregon Trail PC game, bowl haircuts, Tamagotchi and fanny packs.

Fighting competition like Firefox and Chrome, the aim was to re-introduce Internet Explorer to the ’90s generation. The ad earned a Webby Award nomination and provided an immersive look at brand-associated nostalgia.

All these ads generated buzz, with several earning marketing-related awards for their ability to infuse nostalgia with contemporary relevance. Although utilizing nostalgia in marketing certainly isn’t foolproof, these four examples are fine demonstrations of nostalgic marketing done right.

Whether implementing humor like SunnyD, brand-associated nostalgia like Microsoft or ‘80s cheese in the vein of Spotify or Adobe, nostalgia is often a winning ingredient to a successful marketing campaign.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

Leave a Comment

Related Posts