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Stranger things have happened: Why brands are piling in on nostalgia

11 Sep 2019  |  Major Steadman 
Stranger things have happened: Why brands are piling in on nostalgia

When executed with context and relevance, audiences can feel an authentic backstory to a brand that goes beyond its product or service offering, writes Major Steadman

Pop culture plays an important part in triggering nostalgia and a connection in your memory so deep and special that you are moved to a previous version of yourself. This trigger can be incredibly powerful when brands roll it authentically into their content.

Studies from well-known social psychologists Clay Routledge and Tim Wildschut found that people who experience nostalgia also report feelings of warmth and connection, these feelings then enable people to feel more optimistic and positive about themselves. Wildschut stated that nostalgia is “emerging as a fundamental human strength.”

Netflix and Stranger Things

Netflix gives us a goal to aspire toward when it comes to using nostalgia in marketing. Using cultural nostalgia like an open API, they allowed brands such as Nike, Burger King, Ikea, Coca-Cola, H&M, Baskin Robbins and many more to tell authentic stories, taking audiences back in time while creating context to the varying brand experiences that were linked to the third season of Stranger Things.

Coca-Cola did it particularly well by resurrecting its 1985 ‘New Coke’ brand to match with the retro that Stranger Things delivers so well. From a TV spot that was directed by the Duffer Brothers themselves, through to interactive cans that unlocked unique character GIFs, Coke used a wide spectrum of touchpoints to transport audiences back to 80s.

Nike harnessed context and dropped a new 80s inspired clothing line as part of its collaboration with Netflix and Stranger Things, using the Hawkins High School branding as the inspiration behind the drop. Interestingly Hawkins High wasn’t a prominent feature in the programme but Nike used that context (gym, running, fitness) to fit within its brand experience in delivering nostalgia.


The video game industry might be one of the biggest areas to benefit from the growing popularity of nostalgia – looking at the generation that grew up playing games on consoles, those who grew up in the 80s, mesmerised by brands like Nintendo, Sony, and Sega seems an easy target and re-releasing games from that era would be too easy.

Back in 2018, Nintendo was quick to jump on the nostalgia-as-a-vehicle tactic by creating a mini-version of its NES (you know, the ubiquitous grey box that graced the shelf under your remote-less TV), essentially taking audiences back to the physical experience of their first console as opposed the experience of playing a game.

According to the president of Nintendo, the release of the miniature NES was intended to give customers a chance to re-experience the reasons that they fell in love with Nintendo right at the beginning of their journey into gaming.

Halifax Bank

This is a debatable point but sometimes brands can use nostalgia without context and the story-experience falls apart. Halifax is a great example of this from its recent trend of using old cartoons to advertise and market its financial products.

We all remember the Flintstones and probably have great memories of watching it after school or on Saturday mornings (if you fall within that ‘older millennial’ cohort) but do people really want to associate Fred & Wilma with their mortgage? Does it enrich their products by having a cartoon explain it rather than ‘Malcolm’ from customer services? And Top Cat - a hustling homeless chancer - to advertise mortgages? Maybe not.

Major Steadman is strategy director at VaynerMedia

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08 Jul 2020 

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