Nostalgia Marketing: From Childhood Memories to Adult Advertising

Nostalgia Marketing: From Childhood Memories to Adult Advertising


Image and Graphic Design By: Sean Eunice

Written By: Ryan Montoto, Richie Forbes and Jacob Pasternack


On September 7, Nick Jr. nearly broke the internet. 

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Blue’s Clues, Nick Jr.’s Twitter account released a now-viral video that garnered a whopping 20 million views in its first 24 hours. In the video, Steve Burns, the original star of the show, tells the all-grown-up audience that after all these years, he is still so proud of them. Let’s just say it made viewers feel some type of way.

In just two minutes, these green stripes had the whole internet feeling totally nostalgic. Gen Zers were suddenly thrown back in time to the days of Go-GURT and Club Penguin (rip). Alongside this feeling of nostalgia was comfort, happiness and — according to research — an increased likelihood of spending money. As odd as it seems, nostalgia pays. With Gen Z making up 40% of consumers in the U.S., it’s clear to brands that they have to start speaking to us if they want to be successful in the future.

Nostalgia marketing (NM) is defined as the process by which brands link their product or service with old ideas that evoke security, comfort and engagement in audiences. For businesses, this “nostalgia factor” can be very effective. We’re talking $$$. 

Nostalgia has the unique ability to bring about a sense of social connectedness, a feeling which has been found to temporarily reduce the value of money in our minds and, in turn, cause us to spend more. It’s also been proven to make people think more favorably of a brand and reduce negative emotions such as loneliness, boredom and anxiety — thus associating that brand with positivity. After all, familiar faces are friendly faces!

Now that you know what NM is and why it’s used, let’s dive into some recent examples, starting with the furriest.


What’s with the Puppets?

In 2014, with a little bit of blue and a lot of ingenuity, Apple launched its most successful iPhone, the iPhone 6. With a lightweight design and finger-scanning technology, the product sold over 222 million units worldwide, more than any other iPhone to this day. Some Sesame Street fans may argue this was thanks to the iconic Cookie Monster. 


Besides his hit cameo in the iPhone 6 ads, many other brands have featured this beloved fuzzy blue monster alongside their products. In 2020, AT&T gave some screen time to the Cookie Monster, and in a 2021 Super Bowl ad, he can be seen ordering sushi, tendoori chicken and (of course) cookies with DoorDash

Cookie Monster isn’t the only member of The Muppets with celebrity status. Plenty of his furry friends have been featured in advertisements for GEICO, Xfinity, PAM cooking spray and Facebook Portal — all within the last four years. 

Why puppets? With the past 3 generations growing up with characters from Sesame Street and The Muppets, it’s a safe bet that most consumers will feel connected to the characters in some way, shape or form. The tricky part is: over-use of these characters makes the nostalgia lose it’s charm. No one wants their favorite comfort character turning into a gimmick, and no brand wants their ad to get lost within a sea of similar concepts. 


The Retro Side

Not all throwbacks come from characters. Companies have also used vintage and retro elements to evoke nostalgia in consumers. In 2016, Nintendo re-released versions of its vintage gaming systems with mini versions of the classic ‘80s and ‘90s Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Super NES — with 30 and 21 (respectively) classic games released alongside them. 

Millennials and Gen Zers were able to relive their favorite childhood games in a whole new way thanks to these mini re-releases. For many gamers, this revamped their love for Nintendo and favorites like Super Mario, Street Fighter and Legend of Zelda. These products quickly sold out, with over 10 million units sold. 

Sticking with their guns, Nintendo didn’t stop at the NES. Then president Tatsumi Kimishima said, “We also see the nostalgic interest in these products as an opportunity to draw consumers’ attention to our latest gaming system, Nintendo Switch.” 

This strategy may have worked. In the first six months of its launch in 2017, the Nintendo Switch sold around 20 million units, more than the competing Xbox One X sold in that time period. Despite the appeal of new technology like VR and improved movie-like graphics, there’s just something about those bright, cartoonish characters that everyone seems to love. Maybe it’s the simplicity? Maybe the familiarity? Either way, Gen Z is a fan.

In other nostalgia news, Burger King recently took a bite of the retro scene by updating its logo with one virtually identical to its style from back in the ‘90s. Going viral with over 11K likes and over 900 retweets, it’s pretty clear that Twitter approves.

“The redesigned logo reflects a new era for Burger King, and its commitment to fresher, cleaner ingredients is best represented by looking back to simpler, less processed times,” said Debbie Millman, who helped design Burger King’s former logo. 

In theory, this new-but-familiar logo will give customers a newfound appreciation for the fast food giant, but only time will tell if this did the trick. For now, it seems like the new logo is just making everyone a little more hungry.


Real People and Real Emotions

Amid countless modern concerns from the climate crisis to the right to privacy (not to mention the global pandemic), nostalgia marketing is a door to the past. Many wish they could go back to the days when there were fewer responsibilities and challenges. The past two years were especially riddled with both. 

Looking to the past is a great way to cope with current hardship. In times like these, it’s unsuprising that nostalgia marketing has been on the rise. That said, it’s up to brands to stay authentic and use this tactic to connect with consumers — not exploit them.

Brands need to be aware that these aren’t just advertising tools. They’re important aspects of our childhoods. It’s pretty obvious when these elements or characters are being re-used carelessly. That was the reason why the HBO reboot of Gossip Girl was such a flop. Despite the attempt to reach Gen Z by correcting the original show’s lack of diversity, the reboot failed to reach even soapy standards. Its biggest mistake? Answering the big question “Who is Gossip Girl?” in the first episode. 

To all the brands out there: try to have a compelling reason for the nostalgia use (i.e. anniversaries) or at least take the time to create well thought out content. At the end of the day, we all love a blast from the past. Bucket hats, baggy pants and other Y2K staples are in with Gen Z right now, but the important thing is to keep it wholesome. Otherwise, just keep it to yourself.


Published By: Camille Hagins