For consumer brands, using history to connect nostalgia to a product may have a positive impact on sales. A study on nostalgia marketing, revealed that the feelings of social connectedness that arise from nostalgia make people value money less and spend more freely.

The feeling of nostalgia can be set off at any moment—a familiar scent, a childhood song, an old photo, or as some consumer brands have found, certain products.

Because nostalgia is rooted in previous experiences, it makes sense that products from the past are an effective trigger. Therefore, the companies most effective at connecting nostalgia to their brands are also the most in tune with their heritage.

In the last few years, some of the largest companies in the world have used their heritage to increase profitability using nostalgia. Here’s how:

1. Recycle past products

The Coca-Cola Company recently restocked shelves with a blast from the past—Hi-C Ecto Cooler. Ecto Cooler was first introduced in partnership with the original Ghostbusters franchise in 1987, and the 2016 movie reboot gave Coca-Cola the opportunity to revive its popular discontinued product. The simultaneous reboot of Ecto Cooler was a natural way to compound the feeling of nostalgia using the shared history of the two brands.

Coca-Cola is arguably the most iconic brand in the world. By bringing back a former product, the company utilized its heritage to connect nostalgia to its mission of sharing happiness with the world.

2. Post on social media

Nostalgia plays an integral role for businesses on social media. Facebook’s “On This Day” and “Friendship Anniversaries” have proven that users are highly engaged with posts from the past. Many companies are taking advantage of this insight by using popular social media trends like #TBT and #WayBackWednesday to feature vintage products on their social media handles. Nostalgic social media posts are also driving high engagement rates with consumers sharing stories and reminiscing with old products. The smartest brands are listening.

This is a screenshot of an Instagram post by Volkswagen. Volkswagen uses old makes and models of their automobiles on Instagram to connect nostalgia to their brand. With the right posts and hashtags, like #tbt, the company has had increases in shares.
Volkswagen uses #tbt to show old makes and models of their automobiles on Instagram.

3. Time travel

In November 2016, JetBlue paid homage to the “golden years of air travel” by introducing a new retro logo, aircraft paint scheme and a pop-up shop reminiscent of the 1960s. The NYC pop-up front featured period characters in vintage clothing and furniture, as well as 1960s ticket prices.

JetBlue’s most visual investment was the retro paint job of one of its planes. JetBlue designers hunkered down in The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography archive in New York City, researching ads, graphics, images and fonts from the 1960s to get the design just right.

“With that in mind our team broke from our tradition of timeless designs and instead imagined a look to celebrate this iconic era of aviation and what JetBlue may have looked when it would have been introducing humanity to air travel,” said Jamie Perry, JetBlue’s vice president of marketing.

By accessing the archive and pulling forward the heritage of airlines, for a brief moment special guests of JetBlue had the opportunity to travel to a time when post-9/11 security lines and paid luggage were still years away. JetBlue is one of many airlines using heritage to connect nostalgia to its brand.

4. Rebrand

Most of the time rebranding is an attempt to change with the times, but lately agencies are pitching more contemporary ideas reminiscent of the past, such as using a brand’s heritage to convey the values of the company.

In its most recent rebrand, Kodak replaced its corporate watermark with a retro inspired logo. This move was more than a new identity, the design echoes the heritage of the Kodak and the history of film. By retrofitting their brand identity with flat colors and imagery, Kodak was able to connect nostalgia to the brand.

For seasoned photographers, the new brand aesthetic summons the smell of chemical baths, memories of hours fiddling in the dark room and the patience it takes to truly capture a moment on film before amateur iPhone photography. These memories connect nostalgia to the Kodak brand and emphasize the brand’s core values of creativity and professionalism.

5. Resurrect old icons

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has hired a series of actors to portray its founder Colonel Harland Sanders since 2015. The reintroduction of the fast food icon has been wildly successful at bringing the brand back into the spotlight.

While actors and comedians like Jim Gaffigan and Rob Lowe don the founder’s iconic white coat from time to time, nobody says it quite like the Colonel himself. KFC’s most recent television spots splice together old film of Colonel Sanders with new footage of today’s actors in an attempt to connect nostalgia to the brand. KFC television commercials were popular in the 1960s and 1970s, and seeing a familiar face resonates with an audience raised in that time period.

KFC is a company that recognizes the value of its heritage as an asset. Moving its founder to the heart of its comeback has the brand moving in the right direction.

6. Introduce new technology

Although some of the novelty has worn off, let’s not forget the augmented reality platform Pokémon Go. Niantic’s game became an international phenomenon almost overnight. Pokémon Go is at the pinnacle of achievement among companies using new technology to connect nostalgia to their brand.

Pokémon Go brought to life the creatures that so many millennials grew up only knowing as trading cards and cartoons. By introducing a new way to interact with memories of the past the app became the most successful mobile launch in history.

This is a photograph of a user using Pokemon Go. Pokémon Go uses augmented reality to connect nostalgia to its brand. Using this with the new app, it became the most successful mobile launch in history.
Pokémon Go’s augmented reality platform allows fans both young and old to interact with the popular creatures of the 1990s.

Technology has changed the capabilities of many organizations. Niantic is just one example of companies reanimating their heritage with the latest technology to successfully connect nostalgia to their brand.

7. Remind customers of simpler times

Sony’s “For The Players” PlayStation campaign is a trip through memory lane for many video gamers. The ad features recognizable soundbites from popular games to accompany scenes and clothing reminiscent of the 1990s, reminding fans of all the good times they had growing up with the gaming consol.

Sony’s nostalgia campaign was the crescendo of a larger promotional strategy prior to the release of the PlayStation 4. By connecting nostalgia to the product’s release, Sony reached a generation of consumers as they transitioned into adulthood, when real life stressors cause many to wish for the comforts of simpler times.

The PlayStation was the very first game console for many Sony customers. By using the past to replicate the good feelings of simpler times, and games for that matter, the tech company inspired gamers to pick up a familiar controller like the good ole days.

8. Create new product lines

The memories associated with vintage product lines is a big inspiration for the automotive industry. In a 2017 campaign, Volkswagen tipped its cap to the free-spirited owners that made the VW bus a 1960s icon. The campaign is a time warp to Woodstock with a group making the trip across the country in their VW bus.

For new Volkswagen drivers, the engine of the “flower power” movement is something they’ve only seen in movies. The idea to connect nostalgia to the new product line should be limited to those who drove the bus in its original version, but new research suggests that people can actually feel nostalgic about a time that they weren’t present to experience, making it possible for young drivers to feel nostalgic of a product they’ve never even sat in.

The submarine-bodied bus is back by popular demand with some groovy new features. Scheduled for release in 2022, the VW I.D. Buzz is a fully electric version of its 1960s inspiration. By adding new bells and whistles to a familiar product, the German automotive company is able to connect nostalgia to the launch of a new product line and inspire a new generation of free-thinking microbus fans.

Volkswagen has an exceptional heritage to draw from with endless materials essential to connect nostalgia to loyal consumers as well as those who are just now aligning with the brand.

9. Celebrate anniversary milestones

In 2012, Bacardi Limited celebrated its 150th anniversary with a worldwide integrated anniversary campaign. The privately owned spirits company used the milestone to remind the world of its commitment to bringing people together.

The anniversary campaign told Bacardi’s 150-year narrative—from the introduction of the iconic bat logo in 1862 to the Prohibition era to now. The company used a tongue–in-cheek tagline, “If history’s supposed to be boring. Nobody told us,” as a way to share its history without losing sight of its brand promise.

Bacardi’s common message through all platforms was the brand’s impressive 150-year history facilitating the most legendary parties. Partying, with or without the product is something most humans have experienced. Bacardi integrated this insight to connect nostalgia to touchpoints throughout its campaign.

10. Refresh celebrity endorsements

Few if any celebrities have the worldwide recognition of NBA All-Star Michael Jordan. When you add legendary rival Larry Bird into the mix you have one of McDonald’s most sensational commercials ever. In the iconic 1993 McDonald’s ad “The Showdown,” the company pitched the two against each other in an epic game of H.O.R.S.E to win a Big Mac.

In a 2010 homage to “The Showdown,” McDonald’s once again pitched two NBA greats in competition for its signature sandwich. In the end, it is neither LeBron James nor Dwight Howard that wins the contest. Instead, Larry Bird makes his triumphant return to the spotlight, tying the new to the old in a well-crafted connection of nostalgia to its brand.

Consumer brands like McDonald’s have an established history with famous celebrity athlete endorsements. References to famed testimonials from popular entertainers and sports icons is another way the fast food company uses its heritage to connect nostalgia to its brand.

Today the collective trust in established brands and institutions is at an all-time low. Consumers are no longer fooled by false activism and new attempts to manufacture emotion. Just being retro, for the sake of joining the trend is not a successful way to connect nostalgia to a brand.

For consumer brands it is increasingly important to create campaigns rooted in authenticity with today’s consumers. Heritage is where nostalgia is the most authentic.

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