How Startups Leverage Nostalgia and Use Sentimentality in Marketing

By leveraging sentimentality, marketers can tap into familiar trends from the past and ignite nostalgia.

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In the age of the Covid-19 pandemic, nostalgia-driven marketing here in Europe and the world over has perhaps become more prevalent. Whether you’re watching TV, scrolling through social media, or visiting the supermarket, it’s likely that you’ll see some form of nostalgic sentiment being marketed to you before too long. 

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By leveraging nostalgia, marketers can tap into older, more familiar trends from the past as a means of resonating strongly with their audience on social media. Although a strong social tool, we’ve seen countless examples of this occurring on TV with shows like WandaVision, which pays homage to key staples in the history of television, and the wildly popular 1980s throwback, Strange Things. 

In 2021, nostalgia appears to be everywhere. According to a recent study into the impact of Covid-19 on our entertainment choices, over half of consumers are finding comfort in watching old TV shows, films and songs from their youth — while hobbies like Pokemon card collecting have been surging. 

“Generally, people find comfort in nostalgia during times of loss, anxiety, isolation, or uncertainty,” explains Krystine Batcho, a psychology professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York.

Data shows that nostalgia ranks highly in terms of resonating with consumers on an emotional level. 

This makes nostalgia a powerful tool in the marketing repertoire of businesses. Even in the case of startups that may not have an extensive or well-known history to revisit within campaigns, finding content that triggers a strong emotional reaction in your audience can be an excellent way of leveraging conversions. To use this approach to your advantage, conducting research or developing buyer personas belonging to consumers that grew up in certain generations can help you to produce campaigns that truly resonate. 

Let’s explore some of the ways that nostalgia and sentimentality can be used by startups when creating marketing campaigns: 

Engaging in your history (or your industry’s history).

Naturally, it’s easier to engage in your company’s history if your brand has existed for longer, but that doesn’t mean that startups can’t optimize nostalgia in the marketing strategies they create.

One key example of a larger brand engaging in its history can be found in Burger King’s rebrand in early 2021 — in which the company opted to revisit its logo that had been in place between the late 1960s and late 1990s. With 62,837 likes, the announcement stands as Burger King’s most-liked picture on Instagram

For brands that have existed for only a couple of years, it’s possible to build nostalgia strategies by tapping into the great experiences that their customers have had in the wider industry.

In the case of Spotify, direct industry links aren’t even necessary to invoke a sense of nostalgia among users. By tapping into 1984 fantasy film Never Ending Story, the platform, which was founded relatively recently in 2006, has been able to use nostalgia from an era before the company’s formation. 

With this in mind, it’s possible for your startup to generate throwbacks to bygone eras and invoke a sense of sentimentality and nostalgia among your users by referencing shared memories from your consumers’ formative years. 

We’ve even seen nostalgia impact Wall Street in 2021, with stocks closely associated with the childhoods of retail investors like GameStop and AMC surging more than 3,000 percent from the beginning of the year to its early June peak price. That said, “Nostalgia or sentimentality plays a minor role in the steady rise of AMC, GameStop, and other meme stocks,” acknowledges Maxim Manturov, head of investment research at Freedom Finance Europe, before adding that failing to act on feelings of nostalgia in the market can result in FOMO — another strong emotional response that transfers into the world of marketing.

Build on nostalgic sentiment across social media.

Social media can be a great way for companies to interact with millions of consumers on an hourly basis. With each platform offering access to a rich demographic of users, building social media campaigns can not only help your business to generate leads but to also leverage conversions. 

Networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have evolved to become a powerful force in the sharing of nostalgic sentiment, which marketers have tapped into when creating campaigns focused on boosting engagement online. 

Today, many hashtags have become popular in leveraging nostalgia. Perhaps the most common hashtag trend that’s still going strong after many years is #ThrowbackThursday, but there are many more tags that have become wildly popular online. 

UK supermarket chain, Sainsburys added its own twist to the popular #10YearChallenge hashtag that emerged around New Year 2019. The post drew engagement from customers commenting on the scale of change that’s occurred throughout the company’s history - while the popularity of the content also meant that some customers found it easier to discover in order to make stock enquiries, too. 

Sainsburys’ use of #10YearChallenge here is a great example of how businesses don’t have to be intrinsically linked to a hashtag in order to get involved. Sainsbury’s amassed 4,082 likes on a post that didn’t even participate in the challenge itself, which emerged as users decided to post pictures of themselves 10 years ago and compare them with a modern selfie or picture. 

To a similar effect, some brands focus their efforts on generating feelings of nostalgia despite themselves being a business with little in the way of long-term history. For instance, some companies have created their own 70s and 80s themed nights, which can generate strong levels of traffic. 

Social media has become integral to SEO and digital marketing, and by tapping into throwbacks, your brand can gain excellent levels of exposure — even if you’re a recently formed startup. By utilizing nostalgia-themed hashtags, you can promote your brand and allow users to discover your small business in a far quicker manner. 

Look for nostalgic seasonal triggers.

Perhaps the season that has the strongest links to nostalgia is Christmas. However, these sentimental themes can be used alongside a wide range of seasonal triggers which enable audiences to remember the past in an affectionate and engaging way. 

Immediately we can cast our minds to Coca-Cola, which is a brand that successfully generated a nostalgia campaign powerhouse with its ‘Holidays are coming’ Christmas advertisements — with YouGov ad awareness data indicating that huge spikes in engagement with the brand occur around the holiday period.

However, in the case of Death Wish Coffee, we can see that you don’t have to tap into the cosy collective nostalgia around Christmas to use social staples for engagement. 

Here, the coffee shop took the step of linking its products to the classic Halloween movie, Scream, by hashtagging the film and creating holiday-themed content to promote engagement. The example once again shows that it’s possible for companies across a wide range of industries to adapt their content calendars to accommodate seasonal nostalgia triggers. 

In successfully making discoverable Halloween content, this small business can repurpose its content each year as an evergreen way of keeping consumers engaged in the brand. 

Nostalgia-driven engagements don’t have to be transactional.

It’s vital to consider that the immediate goal of nostalgia-based campaigns doesn’t have to be transactional at all. Not every advertisement should be designed to sell products. Rather, nostalgia-based campaigns are better suited to delivering a memorable and positive experience for your audience — helping them to build an element of trust in your brand that may ultimately pave the way for more seamless conversions alongside other campaigns. 

For example, linking your brand to the iconic boy bands of the 90s is an excellent way of engaging with a millennial audience, whilst throwbacks to the swinging 60s can be great for resonating better with older generations. These leads may not make a purchase off the back of such content, but it’s likely to help them to make stronger associations with your brand in the future.

Featuring nostalgia campaigns without a clear call to action attached can help leads to believe in the integrity of your company, too. These types of light-hearted escapism posts can become highly memorable and entirely shareable content — helping to create a buzz around your brand in a way that can lead to sustainable, long-term success.