Corporate communications and marketing

The growing power of nostalgia in advertising

Have you ever been flipping through TV channels and stumbled upon THAT movie, and that’s you occupied for the next couple of hours? What about when you hear THAT song come on the radio, and you can’t help but crank up the volume and sing along.

While THAT movie or THAT song will change from person to person, the reason it evokes these reactions is the same; nostalgia. The warm, reassuring feeling we get when something reminds us of “the good old days”, and an extremely strong psychological trigger that affects people from all backgrounds and generations.

For a long time, brands have turned to the power of nostalgia to connect with consumers on a deeper, emotional level, and it has become particularly prevalent in marketing towards Millennial audiences.

But why is nostalgia advertising such a sought-after strategy for modern marketing teams? Well put down your Pokémon cards and shut off your record player. This article will explain everything you need to know.

What is nostalgia?

Our understanding of nostalgia has come a long way since it was first coined by French physician Johannes Hofer in his 1688 medical dissertation. He believed it was a disease similar to paranoia, where any “sufferer” was manic in their longing for a specific object or place.

Today, a more accurate definition of nostalgia is provided by Alan R. Hirsch:

“Nostalgia is considered a yearning for an idealised past – a longing for a sanitised impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory – not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out.”

Put simply, nostalgia is our emotional response to a trigger that takes us back to a prior, simpler, happier time, usually in our childhood. This can be directly tied to an experience you enjoyed with your family and friends, or a general connection to sights, smells and sounds that evoke a previous point in time.

Pretty much anything can be a trigger of nostalgia – food, films, songs, games, clothing, old photos – the list is endless. Anything that takes you back to a time and gives you a warm, comforting feeling.

The psychological power of nostalgia

So what is the purpose of nostalgia? A lot of research has been conducted into this phenomenon, and has revealed several standout benefits it has on people’s mood:

  • Nostalgia counteracts feelings of boredom, loneliness and anxiety
  • It increases self-esteem and makes life feel more meaningful
  • It evokes your connections to family, friends, and others who care about you
  • It makes people more tolerant of strangers and more sociable
  • It reduces stress levels
  • It helps people feel more optimistic about the future
  • It makes people feel more positive, and consequently improves their ability to recall information
  • It buffers against negative feelings, and provides a comforting barrier during significant life changes

Some of the most prominent triggers of nostalgia are negative emotions such as fear, sadness or loneliness. In these moments, as well as moments of upheaval in our lives, we often find ourselves yearning for a time where life was simpler and more fun.

That’s why it is no surprise that a survey conducted in 2019 by YouGov and the7stars revealed that 90% of people think fondly about the past occasionally, and 47% do it often or always, and 55% of people would travel back in time if it was an option. (Source YouGov)

The potency of nostalgia is clear to see in all forms of media, especially film and TV, whether it is the evocative 1980s tone and imagery of a series like Stranger Things, or the continuous stream of live-action remakes of beloved Disney animated movies over the past decades.

One of the most powerful things about nostalgia is that it affects people of all ages and generations. Of course, their specific triggers will be different depending on when they grew up – Tamagotchis and frosted tips will mean more for children of the 1990s than the lava lamps and easy-bake ovens of those who grew up in the 1960s.

But the phenomenon of nostalgia itself is fairly universal, which is why it has become such a prominent tool for marketing teams over the years.

Why modern marketers rely on nostalgia

People’s passion for the past has made nostalgia marketing a very effective technique for brands, particularly among Millennial audiences.

One of the strongest ways for brands to develop long-term, sustainable relationships with consumers is to connect with them on an emotional level. Leveraging nostalgia to tie their brand with triggers that bring people back to their childhood and happier times is a compelling way to achieve this.

For brands with extensive histories like Coca-Cola, Nike or Nintendo, the revival of retro products, old-school branding or modern interpretations of classic adverts can be used to remind people why they love the brand in the first place, or to reach out to more nostalgia-craving customers.

But, you don’t need to have a long legacy to harness a nostalgia-based marketing strategy. With the right concepts and understanding of your audience, any company can connect classic images, sounds and feelings that will resonate with consumers.

There are several reasons why nostalgia is believed to be so powerful among Millennial consumers:

  • The stresses of modern life make people learn for a simpler time
  • Events like the COVID-19 pandemic encourage people to escape for the comfort of the past
  • Modern technology is often seen as more impersonal and cold

The same survey by YouGov and the7stars we mentioned earlier revealed that more Millennials reminisce about the past frequently compared with older age groups. Nevertheless, by employing the right triggers, all generations of consumers can be successfully reached with nostalgic advertising.

6 examples of effective nostalgia advertising


Pepsi has often harked back on the company’s history to inspire nostalgia in their customers. Remember the limited-time return of Crystal Pepsi, a discontinued drink from the 1990s, back in 2016? To add even more meat to the nostalgia smorgasbord this delivered, advertising surrounding this revival including the “Crystal Pepsi Trail”, inspired by the revered Oregon Trail video game of the 1970s and 80s.


To tug at the heartstrings of their Millennial audiences, Spotify reunited Falkor and Atreyu from The Neverending Story for a funny 2016 advert. The celebrated theme song from the movie plays in the background, tying it into Spotify’s brand purpose to deliver the music people care about.


In a clever example of both harnessing nostalgia and current trends, Adobe jumped on the revived interest in Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting to produce a fun series of tutorial videos promoting their new Adobe Photoshop Sketch for the iPad Pro. The authenticity of this parody helped these videos capture a lot of clicks.

Burger King

After 20 years since their last rebrand, Burger King switched things up in 2021 by reverting back to an identity that mirrors their logos used in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Jones Knowles Ritchie, the agency behind this rebranding, stated that their inspiration was to “pay homage to the brand’s heritage with a refined design that’s confident, simple and fun.”

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut’s recent “Newstalgia” campaign puts a modern spin on its iconic branding elements. Again, designed to remind people why they love their pizza in the first place. This old-is-new approach is capped off with a Pac-Man collaboration, turning the classic arcade game into an AR experience on QR code-enabled pizza boxes.


Speaking of video games, Nintendo has always been more than willing to feed their customers’ cravings for nostalgia. This could be updated versions of classic gaming franchises like Super Mario World and Pokémon, creating new versions of old-school gaming consoles like the SNES, or the above advert from 2019 depicting two brothers growing up together, falling out, and then reuniting over their experiences playing Nintendo games together.

How to use nostalgia in your campaigns

Despite the incredible power of nostalgia in evoking emotions among consumers of all ages and backgrounds, using it in your marketing campaigns is no guarantee of success.

Without careful planning and strong attention to detail, it can be hard to get the right “feel” that you want to translate to your audiences. Plus, if the nostalgic elements have no connection to your brand values or identity, these attempts may be seen as hollow and inauthentic, and therefore more likely to turn people off your brand than leave them feeling all warm inside.

So, to boost your chances of a successful nostalgia marketing strategy, consider the following tips:

  • Know the inspiration behind your campaign, whether it’s the revival of a classic product, a celebration of a brand milestone, or a refresh of your brand in general
  • Understand your audience and what memories, events and pastimes will encourage them to feel nostalgic
  • Tap into your brand history where possible to remind customers of their positive experiences with your company in the past
  • Check your archives for any classic video footage or imagery that can really inspire nostalgia in your audiences
  • Hop on social media trends like #TBT (Throwback Thursday) to share some classic content from your collection
  • Pay close attention to the details that matter – authenticity is essential for the success of any nostalgia marketing strategy

Evoke the past, embrace the future

When used correctly, nostalgia is one of the most powerful forces in building meaningful, emotional connections with your consumers worldwide. By recognising people’s fondness for the past, you can find the inspiration for creative, compelling campaigns that really resonate with them on a personal level.

However, to make the most of the past, it’s important to look to the future. BAM by Papirfly™ enables your global teams, regardless of design experience, to create studio-standard, on-brand assets that will feel right at home in your nostalgia-driven campaigns.

  • Benefit from fully bespoke, intelligent templates, empowering you to take asset production in-house and work more efficiently
  • House all created assets in one easily accessible location and share them with your teams across the globe
  • Make all guidelines, training videos and assets available company-wide to protect your brand identity

To learn more about how BAM can benefit your business, book your demo today.