Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be for marketers

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80s favourites Skeletor and He-Man were co-opted by MoneySupermarket.

Nostalgia is something we tend to look upon fondly. Childhood memories. Sunny days filled with laughter and song. It’s maybe a bit of a comfort blanket for some people. And when you have shared memories, it’s often genuinely nice to look back upon them together. But overall, we have a huge tendency to romanticise, simplify and accentuate the positive when it comes to nostalgia.

That is perhaps why we’ve seen a crop of high-profile advertising campaigns lean heavily on the power of nostalgia.

Some recent examples include the robotic head of Arnie’s Terminator, He-Man and Skeletor and most recently the original Ghostbusters feature in ads. If you’re a child of the 80s or older, that’ll mean something to you, but there’s bit more to it. Halifax and others are co-opting 80s icons and, therefore, targeting a specific demographic for a reason – it’s a demographic with money.

Marketers can certainly target particular age groups using nostalgia if they are that way inclined. However, creatively speaking, the choice to utilise nostalgia means that all else has failed. Whether the root cause is down to budgets, a lack of insight or a weak marketing team, nostalgia is a fall-back solution that won’t be effective in the long-term. After all, it’s a recycling of an old idea rather than anything new. Where’s the new insight? Where’s the new idea? The original thinking?

There is also the danger that to target an older demographic with nostalgia will not grow the business. As these customers grow older who will the agency turn to in order to find new business? Certainly not the younger generation who will have no frame of reference when it comes to the nostalgia based marketing that the business has reverted to in the past. In order for a business to grow it needs to be able to attract new customers and the best way to do this is through forward thinking. Reacting to the here and now.

The truth is that the campaigns we’ve seen recently could have happened 30 or more years ago. They tap into explosions of creativity from another time, with the ideas having first come about across a smoky office or a pub table crammed with empty pint glasses. Instead of looking back to the glory days, should agencies not be trying to created their own, original masterpieces?

The old nostalgia ads we see now were once creative leaps. Now though, they are neither new nor original. We have moved on. Quite simply, it’s a lazy approach.

The danger of nostalgia is that this air of laziness rubs off on your brand. Whatever you say about nostalgia, it’s old – and old is not the marketer’s friend. New is always braver and better. You can’t build a long-term marketing strategy around nostalgia. You always have to find a new strategy, proposition and creative.

Having said that, there may be certain occasions when your marketing can look back with a clear conscience, such as a brand celebrating a particular anniversary. You can’t build a marketing strategy around that either, but significant anniversaries can, provide a good launchpad for some new and interesting and engaging content. And, it can, perhaps, spearhead a new direction for the brand to take.

We all like to indulge in nostalgia at times but, for marketers, it may be time to accept that the risks associated outweigh the advantages. Look forward, not backwards.

Henry Rossiter is creative director at JJ Marketing

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