A brand’s legacy is only as good as the memory people have of it.
This is why so many brands are now leveraging nostalgia into new products, essentially combining the past with the present to bolster the future. A perfect example of this is the popular about-to-be-a-movie book, Ready Player One. Ernest Cline’s novel is packed full of pop-culture references dating back into the 80s and 90s in a near-future that is dominated by virtual reality. With the Spielberg-helmed film adaptation ready to bring this vision of future-nostalgia to life, Ready Player One exemplifies the looking-back-to-prepare-for-the-future turn that nostalgia has taken in the marketplace.
The thing about leveraging nostalgia in this way is that it affects various demographics differently, while in parallel; this means that the same product might trigger nostalgia in Millennials and Gen Z, but for two very different reasons. In Gen Z, it’s more of an abstract nostalgia, as much of what is coming out is new to them—but they recognize its relevance from a previous era. Millennials, on the other hand, are swimming in referential content from their childhood and teenage years, with brands essentially mining the Millennial’s formative years for low-effort, high-return content and designs.
Another great example is the simple hair scrunchie (or “hair cloud” if you prefer). Gone for more than a decade, the accessory has made a triumphant return to the fashion world through brands such as Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and Comfort Objects—the last of which makes its scrunchies out of upcycled Hermes scarves. Millennials will see this and immediately recognize it from their own past, while Gen Z might recognize it as something that breaks from the norms of fashion, and embraces function over form without sacrificing the nostalgic aesthetic that has brought “mom” fashion back to the forefront.
Nostalgia can be a double-edged sword. Brands and companies will have to walk a fine line when trying to leverage nostalgia. Although it may seem like a low hanging fruit option for marketing, there have been recent backlashes around the new Star Wars and the recent remake of cult-favorite Heathers. Such feedback has shown that nostalgia, when perceived as doing a disservice to the source material, can cause outrage instead of acceptance.
Know your audience, and the things influencing them, before taking the easy road to marketing.