Author Tom Wolfe made a statement with the title of his novel, You Can’t Go Home Again.
Maybe he’s right that we can’t go back to our childhood rooms or the other good times in our lives, but you certainly can remember them through nostalgia. And many of us do. For better or worse, nostalgia can be an influential force in all our lives, one which associations and businesses can harness to build engagement.
Transporting people to the time of their childhoods, teens, or just their favorite pastime can do wonders for engagement. Our pasts are rich with memories that come to mind quickly. Simple objects evoke powerful memories. Everything from scrunchies to leg warmers, fluorescent shirts to Jams, fashion to home appliances can be used. Simple mentions and pictures bring on strong emotions when people are nostalgic.
But it’s not all wistful thoughts and sentimentalities. A study from the Journal of Consumer Research found that when someone feels nostalgic they are more likely to spend money or donate to a cause. So if your organization could make someone feel nostalgic, it could help sell conference tickets, memberships, products or services.
What Is Nostalgia and Why Is It So Powerful?
Nostalgia is sentimentality for a particular time period or item, usually from our youth or formative years. With nostalgia, thoughts and feelings of the past are brought back from the recesses of memory through belongings, smells, tastes, touch, music, images and even weather. Experiences that illicit nostalgic feelings bring up something that people wish was still there or still true.
Nostalgia is powerful because it takes a happy memory and brings it forth again, leaving out any pain or discomfort you may have felt at the time. That’s why, while our past may be peppered with bad memories, nostalgia is almost always positive. It often leaves negativity behind and we remember a pleasanter time.
Nostalgia in Marketing and Engagement
Since it is so powerful, nostalgia is also a compelling engagement tool. When your organization makes people feel nostalgic, you bring up positive reminiscent feelings that are then connected with your organization. That helps you build a stronger relationship with your customers or members.
It can also lead to increased engagement and sharing. By making your customers feel nostalgic you bring up their own memories, which people have a natural inclination to share. They don’t just want to think about that awesome candy they ate as a kid, they want to ask their coworkers if they remember it, too. That makes nostalgia something your organization’s patrons can share with one another as well as outside friends, family, and colleagues to increase your brand recognition.
Companies have been using nostalgia to connect with customers and members for years. A recent Forbes article highlighted a few great examples of nostalgia in marketing, such as a hashtag that swept across Twitter a few years back: #InThe90sIThought. It was wildly popular and brands such as Paramount Movies used it to connect with what was obviously a passionate audience.
4 Ways Your Business or Association Can Use Nostalgia
The most important thing you need to remember when selecting the ideal nostalgic item or topic is to ensure it resonates with your audience. If your members are almost all Millennials, asking them who used a key for their roller skates will elicit crickets, but Boomer customers will ring in loud and proud, telling stories of how they wore them around their necks.
Here are a few suggestions on how you can evoke memories and build connections using nostalgia:
Method #1) Post Nostalgic Images or Quizzes on Social Media
You’re looking for interactions and shares on social media, so a popular post idea is sharing an older or obscure image and asking people if they know what that item is for. Don’t directly solicit likes, but ask something along the lines of: “Ever used one of these? Anyone still have one?” then share an image of a rotary phone. People will respond.
Another idea is a nostalgic quiz. Quizzes like, “Which 80s TV Mom Are You?” or “Which Peanuts Character Are You Most Like?” get a lot of interaction on social networks today. Nostalgia is one of the reasons these are so popular.
Both quizzes and pictures that elicit nostalgia get a lot of interaction, as shown by this example:
If you need some ideas for how to get your nostalgic social media posts started, check out this Facebook page for Boomer and Gen X content.
Method #2) Use a Nostalgic Presentation Theme
Do you have a member onboarding presentation or a new product release that needs a little pizzazz? Using a theme that would appeal to your demographic is a solid choice. It will keep people interested because even if they’re not excited about your presentation, they’re interested in how the theme is woven in. The nostalgic reference will also help bring up positive feelings that could transfer to your organization.
Check out this slide presentation design from Chango, which has since been acquired by Rubicon Project:
Method #3) Find an Interesting Nostalgic Theme for Your Event
Nostalgia with events has transcended 80s-themes where everyone wears sideways ponytails and leg warmers. Just look at Comic-Con, where one of the hottest giveaways this year was Hot Wheels. Hot Wheels created a booth featuring a nostalgic nod to their long production history. But more importantly, they showcased cars that made a lot of attendees long for their childhood collections. It was a huge success.
You can do the same thing at your conference, meeting, or event. Create an atmosphere that goes beyond a theme and encourages connecting and sharing.
Another interesting way to use retro references is to discount an event ticket or another item back to ‘80’s pricing (if that’s your theme) for a flash sale. You can even use nostalgia in giveaways like Hot Wheels did. Encourage your vendors to do the same.
Method #4) Blog Posts
Blog posts are another way businesses and associations can connect with members through nostalgia. For instance, Buzzfeed has an entire section devoted to retro pieces called BuzzFeed Rewind. You can peruse them for some great examples on how to effectively incorporate nostalgia into your own writing. Here's just one example:
One of the easiest ways that organizations can tie in nostalgic references are with posts about special anniversaries, such as: “We’re celebrating our 50th birthday this year. If you are too, here are a few things you might remember…” Include photos and videos of things your customers likely experienced in their own lives that tie into the anniversary. You’ll grab attention and have your people reminiscing about the good old days with you.
Grabbing Attention with Nostalgia Takeaway
Gregory Carpenter from James Farley/Booz Allen Hamilton and Professor of Marketing Strategy at the Kellogg School of Management puts the allure of the past into context:
“The past is safe because it is completely predictable. Connecting with the past through familiar, loved brands transports people to another time by evoking the same feelings they experienced so long ago.
It works well for brands that have an authentic connection with the past, especially some powerful associations with it.”
Associations and many businesses have rich pasts. They can easily intertwine their history into marketing and social media in a playful, nostalgic way to connect with and entertain members and customers. The key to doing this successfully is in presenting nostalgic items, tastes, and preferences that appeal to your audience in unique, fresh ways.
If you don’t think they’ll go for it, consider that even Pokémon Go! is based on a retro game and Rubik’s Cubes are back on the store shelves. Everything old is new again and it brings with it feelings of fondness. Connecting with your customers and members by eliciting those positive feelings is a great way to build stronger relationships.