How to Harness Nostalgia in Marketing

"I'm thinking about when I was a child and there were no cares and no worries... You didn't worry about the calories in a cookie, you'd just go for it.” - Respondent (2012)

There's something special about hearing people re-connect with their childhood. Like unearthing a treasure chest of emotion, the first years of life can represent a source of comfort and nostalgia.

While the realities of adulthood can bury childhood memories under layers of parental, work and social responsibility - uncovering and harnessing nostalgia can represent a major opportunity for marketing.

The Benefits of Nostalgia

According to research, eliciting a feeling of nostalgia in human beings can, "serve a homeostatic function, allowing the mind to return to previously enjoyed states, including states of bodily comfort." From a practical perspective, this means that nostalgic thoughts are able to make you feel comforted and physically warm.

For any brand that wants to be associated with comfort and warmth, whether they're a restaurant like Johnny Rockets, a food product like Kraft Mac & Cheese, or a technology manufacturer like John's Phone, uncovering and harnessing nostalgia can be important.

The Sources of Nostalgia

There are two types of memories that are often associated with nostalgia: social interactions and momentous life events. Researchers have found that these "areas seem to be most frequently.. associated with the recall of [nostalgic] experiences," and may provide a fertile starting point for branding.

Social interaction memories are often focused on interactions with close friends and family. In research, exploring memories and metaphors from childhood can help to uncover these types of associations, for example:

"It's milk and cookies, warm feelings, and the glass bottles that used to come to the door… My mom would always say, don’t worry if you drop the milk, it’s okay. My favorite memory was her telling me not to worry about the spilled milk.” - Respondent (2012)

Momentous life event memories are often focused on periods of birth, death and transition. In research, exploring the memories of major life changes and evolution can help to uncover these types of associations, for example:

"I had a blog when my grandfather was sick and dying. I wrote it for the extended family, so everybody had a place to check in and get updated on what was happening with him… A friend of mine suggested this type of blog, because their child had died. They couldn’t field the phone calls and the emails... it was too emotional.” - Respondent (2011)

Harnessing Nostalgia in Marketing

So how can you harness nostalgia in your marketing? Here are a couple of examples.

When research manages to uncover existing nostalgic associations with a brand, building a marketing strategy around those memories can be an option. One example of a brand that used this technique was McDonald's in their 'feed your inner child' campaign:


Alternatively, linking a new brand with an existing nostalgic memory may also provide a marketing opportunity if the aim is to reduce feelings of risk. This can be effective when marketing innovative products that need to make people feel comfortable, for example: