Nostalgia: It's Not What it Used to Be

There seems to be huge appetite at the moment for nostalgia - Twitter and Facebook go crazy for images and links to toys, TV shows and other products that remind them of time gone by.

The Dandy, an iconic children's comic, announced last week that it was moving purely to online and would no longer be available in print. My first reaction was sadness and disappointment for the loss of one of my childhood memories, but then it dawned on me that I hadn't bought the magazine for over 20 years. There seems to be huge appetite at the moment for nostalgia - Twitter and Facebook go crazy for images and links to toys, TV shows and other products that remind them of time gone by. A review of memorable Garbage Pail Kids was posted here on the Huffington Post recently, and a new series of Dallas is about to hit our screens. What does this mean for brands? And how are marketers cashing in on this trend?

One brand that seems to be maximising the cult of nostalgia is John Lewis. Its recent advert for music devices through the decades, accompanied by songs and fashion from those times, was widely well received - and rumoured to have cost the brand £20 million. But no doubt they recouped these costs - I noticed recently you can even purchase a CD of music featured in the department store's various advertisements, so they are ensuring return on investment in addition to brand awareness. British Airways also used this tactic with its campaign featuring air travel through the decades. This works on many levels, raising awareness but also ensuring its brand is associated with heritage and longevity. With globalisation leading to increased competition, companies that have stuck around longer are likely to have more loyal fans.

Working for a PR company, it's important to keep this trend in mind. There are a number of methods and tactics that you can use in your strategy to tap into this - whether it is through traditional media activity, online PR or using your skills as a search agency. Firstly, pick your target market carefully. Keep in mind that times have changed and your customers have aged. However, those who were children in the 1970s and '80s may now be parents, and may respond positively to marketing communications harking back to their childhood. Just remember that the product itself needs to have evolved - children are extremely tech-savvy these days and are unlikely to go crazy for a Casio keyboard or a Rubik's cube (sadly).

There are some great examples of using this nostalgia and bringing it into the 21st century. Smartphone apps such as Instagram and Hipstamatic have taken off as they produce an old-fashioned photograph feel. New media offers a number of opportunities for nostalgic marketing and will be significantly less expensive than a large-scale advertising campaign. Brands should look at how they can maximise this through Facebook, Twitter and Google+. As with all successful social media campaigns, users want to be the first person to spot a trend, and will be keen to 'pass it on' if there is an incentive to do so. Online quizzes asking 'which TV character are you?' are always popular, but do keep it front of mind that this needs to be relevant to your product or service.

One other idea to consider is that the use of nostalgia is not necessarily going to introduce your brand to new audiences. Consumers are fickle, and it is important to allocate significant resources to developing strategies to draw in new customers. Nostalgia can't be the only focus.

The recession has certainly led to an increase in 'nostalgic marketing' and for many companies this is proving to be a successful approach to increase awareness and sales. It's interesting to think about what the next generation will be harking back to. In twenty years' time will there be a resurgence of campaigns around Facebook, smartphones and MP3 players? Now, that makes me feel old.

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