Beyond Nostalgia: How Brands Can Leverage the Powers of 'Fauxstalgia' and 'Newstalgia'
Millennials are the last age cohort to remember life with CDs and without digital technology. No wonder they look back fondly at the past.
Nostalgia is powerful: From the movies we watched as children to the music that helped us survive high school, our memories of the “good ol’ days” invoke powerful feelings of security, comfort and trust. After all, our past experiences have formed who we are present-day.
Today, nostalgia has a tight grip on millennials in particular due to the rapid technological revolution they’ve experienced in their lifetimes. They’ve seen the birth of the internet, the rise of social media and the societal influx of virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
At the same time, they’ve mourned the loss of CDs, photo books, film development and video cassettes. They’re the first age cohort to grow up with technology, and the last to remember life without it. As a result, they love to reminisce about how things used to be.
For entrepreneurs and marketers, there’s an extraordinary opportunity to tap into this powerful feeling, and there isn’t just one way in. So, if your company has millennial customers, you might want to consider the nostalgia factor closely.Here are some non-traditional ways to connect your company with the past:
1. Understand "fauxstalgia."
Just because a your audience members didn’t live through a particular cultural movement doesn’t mean they can’t feel nostalgic for it. Enter fauxstalgia: the yearning for a time in the past, even though you may never have experienced that time directly yourself.
Craving culture from a bygone era. The craze for retro clothing at Urban Outfitters, TopShop and Madewell; the timeless soundtracks from the '60s in modern retail stores, the love of '70s throwback bars in college towns: All are evidence of this phenomenon. It’s the reason three generations identify with the 1967 film, The Graduate, and why young adults feel nostalgic for music from their parents’ youth. In our shared experiences and collective memories are universal feelings and timeless themes that transcend generations.
2. Link the past with the present.
Once you understand the concept of fauxstalgia, you can leverage it when building your startup or marketing your products by linking past experiences with present situations. A great example is what gaming company Niantic built with Pokémon Go. The mobile game broke five Guinness World Records and became the fastest mobile game to gross $100 million.
While millennials who grew up watching Pokemon and collecting cards in the '90s jumped on the app out of nostalgia, it was largely a Gen Z-driven phenomenon. By sticking to imagery from the original '90s game, Pokémon sparked a collective yearning among its millennial card collectors while invoking feelings of fauxstalgia in younger generations. In addition to using a hyper-targeted strategy, the game sparked a tradition of passing along a loved game from millennial parents to their offspring in a contemporary way.
Gen Z recognized that the characters were cherished and that they embodied a history of rich storytelling. On top of this, Pokémon saw that Gen Z lives on their mobile devices and has a special affinity for gaming. Pokémon Go evoked real nostalgia in millennials and a faux, but equally powerful, nostalgia in Gen Z, winning over two generations. A survey carried out by mfour found that 83 percent of people who use Pokémon Go are between the ages of 18 and 34.
Another example of fauxstaglia is the Netflix series Stranger Things. Its '80s inspired setting is full of retro objects like Polaroid cameras, phones attached to walls, and walkie-talkies. While millennial viewers reminisce about their childhoods, the series has all ages longing for a simpler life where kids play in the woods and ride bikes, and where being disconnected from computers and smartphones allows everyone to be imaginative.
For Gen Z, fauxstalgia is made especially powerful because the actors are from their own age group. As the show carries the characters through thrilling mysteries, young viewers can relate to their fear, excitement and wonder.
3. Understand "newstalgia."
Along with fauxstalgia, there’s another way for entrepreneurs to leverage nostalgia in their startups and brands: newstalgia, meaning constructing something to feel old, even when it’s new. Associating images and messaging with positive references from the past humanizes a brand and facilitates meaningful connections between the past and present.
Because nostalgia is rooted in previous experiences, tying things to the past has a particularly effective emotional trigger. It’s the reason we add faux-vintage, grainy filters to new photos on Instagram; it creates a feeling of bittersweet longing for that moment.
4. Channel the past.
Especially for entrepreneurs who are just launching a brand or business, it can be hard to play up a long company history, since one may not yet exist. This is where newstalgia comes in: So, use the past as inspiration and find ways to invoke emotion.
Newstalgia happens often in fashion, where modern brands leverage past styles and themes to imbue their clothing with legacy. An example was Banana Republic’s Mad Men capsule collection in 2012, which leveraged the award-winning TV series, set in the 1960s, for inspiration. The company's campaign created a line of retro '60s-inspired clothing, reminiscent of the period and the stylistic choices seen in the series. By launching a “new” collection that felt old and full of history, Banana Republic added a sense of heritage to its apparel and brand, through association with a specific moment in time.
We see newstalgia taking effect across other industries, as well. Another example was the series of Instagrammable activations my own ccmpany created for Pizza Hut at San Diego Comic Con and SXSW. These activations used throwback imagery and 1990s Pizza Hut dine-in references to appeal to younger audiences too young to have experienced the 90s, but still able to appreciate the fun throwback vibe.
Looking forward, a strategy of invoking nostalgia will continue to be one of the most powerful ways for you to build trust with consumers and get them to buy into your idea and connect with your company. As evidence, consider research that has shown that consumers make purchase decisions based on appeals to emotion.
By moving beyond traditional nostalgia marketing and getting inventive with fauxstalgia and newstalgia, you can connect with old ideas and beloved themes, regardless of your startup's industry segment. As we move ahead in an increasingly digital world, evoking feelings of family, engagement and comfort will only become more important.
Kate Wolff is SVP of client services at RQ. Previously, she was an account director at Omelet/senior lead on its Microsoft, Pokémon, LINE Webtoon, Scandale Halle Berry (lingerie line), HBO, Bravo, Netflix and Showtime accounts. In addition to her account leadership and management responsibilities, Wolff spearheaded Omelet’s content-driven loyalty asset by developing products and reward based programs in partnership with DreamWorks for high-frequency retail partners in the U.K., Canada and Latin America. She has previously worked at the agencies TBWA/Chiat/Day, DDB, Publicis Modem, Riney and Hill Holliday.