Bratz, Barbie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Motorola Razr—these days, it seems like everything is getting a reboot, remake or revival. Some might perceive the trend as brands lacking fresh ideas or mitigating risk by banking on past popularity to fuel future success. However, there’s no denying our cultural landscape is steeped in nostalgia.

Even as technology advances, there’s still nothing like the “good old days.” Given the wistfulness for our past lives in a post-2020 world, it’s no surprise nostalgia marketing is in. When executed correctly, nostalgia marketing spurs excitement, inspires brand affinity and gives people a warm fuzzy feeling they won’t forget.

What is nostalgia marketing?

Nostalgia marketing involves associating a product, service or brand with positive, familiar elements from the past to evoke an emotional connection with target audiences. By incorporating memories into campaigns, marketers can bridge past and present experiences to foster lasting relationships with consumers.

Why the nostalgia marketing strategy works

Nostalgia marketing works because consumers often make purchase decisions based on emotion. A Frontiers in Psychology study about the influence of social media brand marketing on consumers’ emotions says,“Consumers tend to choose products according to their own preferences and values, paying attention to emotional satisfaction and psychological recognition, so that enterprises can gain higher brand loyalty.”

In other words, we cling to positive memories, so when a brand, event or product is a part of that memory, they’re at an advantage. Nostalgia enables us to indulge in familiarity and comfort. We can reminisce on the laughs, the vibes, the memes—you had to be there to understand the cultural impact. Or do you?

Campaigns that incorporate nostalgia marketing aren’t limited to the people who have those emotional heartstrings attached to a memory. They have an opportunity to use nostalgia as a mechanism for brand storytelling and longevity by nurturing long standing fans while also attracting new prospects, especially from younger generations.

How social media has enabled nostalgia marketing

Nothing dies on the internet. Social media supports this digital immortality, playing a pivotal role in nostalgia marketing. It’s a virtual time capsule, accumulating and preserving moments within the cultural zeitgeist through content like memes and internet lore .

Brands adept at leveraging this phenomenon can integrate their products, services or campaigns into shared memories that resonate with their target audience. And with niche communities on channels like TikTok, both old and new aficionados can dive even deeper into retro infatuations.

Nostalgic elements in your social strategy spark conversations and foster brand loyalty. Whether through nostalgic ads, retro-themed product launches or interactive challenges inspired by past trends, social media offers a dynamic playground for nostalgia marketing to thrive.

When users encounter posts that remind them of fond memories, they are inclined to react, comment and share with their networks, amplifying the reach and impact of nostalgia marketing efforts. The timely nature of social media also enables brands to capitalize on current events or pop culture by infusing them with nostalgic references, creating a powerful blend of the past and present that resonates with diverse audiences.

By harnessing the collective nostalgia of online communities, brands can craft compelling narratives that transcend time.

How you can use nostalgia marketing to connect with your audience

It might seem like a reboot means there’s a built-in audience, but it also comes with risks. Nostalgia is an emotional experience that makes us feel bonded to our favorite pop culture keepsakes. These things are precious to us, so if they’re redesigned or repurposed in a way that fans aren’t receptive to, you will hear about it.

Here are three ways you can get nostalgia marketing right:

1. Tune into the nostalgia melting pot on social media

2010’s teenhood was marked by a makeup obsession—and crushes on fantastical beings like vampires. At the start of the decade Colourpop was a prominent fixture in the beauty industry. More than ten years later, thanks to the resurgence of the Y2K aesthetic powered by content creators and influencers, the brand found its way back into our timelines and hearts by collaborating with Twilight—the popular vampire trilogy from the late 2000’s and early 2010’s.

A TikTok video announcing a restock for the Twilight x Colourpop makeup collection.

This isn’t an isolated event. Social media is a melting pot of nostalgia where you can reminisce and connect to a larger community of people with shared interests. Social is swirling with conversations and content about what consumers miss from the past, the memories that bring them back to their childhoods and the brands that left a mark along the way (cue the Tumblr resurgence in 2022).

When marketers use social media listening, they can capture and capitalize on moments when people reflect on their brand legacy. Colourpop has a social listening informed strategy that has allowed them to sell out products over the years. For example, the limited edition Twilight collection sold out upon launch. After seeing fans asking for more opportunities to buy, Colourpop held several restocks.

2. Focus on audience and relevance

What makes one person nostalgic, could make another person feel out of the loop. Age, interests, historical events and more all influence what we hold dear.

On the surface, nostalgia marketing seems to narrow the audience you’re able to target. But at its best, it can communicate your brand story to new audiences. For instance, Geico made advertising history in 2004 when they introduced the Caveman to encourage people to use The famous tagline was “So easy a caveman can do it.”

The insurance company brought back the Caveman mascot through its “Legend of the Lizard” campaign. In December, Geico released a 15-minute mockumentary to create buzz around the Big Game in 2024. The brand later released snippets on social and TV during the largest sporting event of the year.

A clip from Geico's Legend of the Lizard campaign on Instagram. People in the comments saying they're happy to see the caveman return to Geico's commericals.

3. Reintroduce products back by popular demand

Shopping trends and consumer preferences continuously change, which is why many brands frequently discontinue and launch products. But when a favorite or go-to product disappears and is no longer available for purchase, people frequently share their disappointment on social media.

With social listening, brands can take stock of the products that people miss. If the conversation is large enough, you might even consider bringing a discontinued item back to surprise and delight customers. For example, McDonald’s uses nostalgia to bring back the McRib a few times every decade. The most recent return was in fall 2023.

Nostalgia marketing examples from leading brands

Here are three leading brands that use nostalgia marketing:

1. Oh Polly

Oh Polly collaborated with Bratz to release a doll-inspired festival collection. Oh Polly is a UK-based retail brand with a social-first business model focused on Instagram and Facebook. They’re known for providing trendy, quality clothing items globally, so collaborating with our favorite 2000s girls with a passion for fashion is a natural fit, especially with the emergence of Y2K fashion.

An Instagram post from Bratz and OhPolly announcing their clothing collaboration is live.

As a part of their social campaign, they encouraged customers to sign up for an exclusive waitlist, using iconic Bratz imagery like the lip phone on Instagram Stories and Reels.

Oh Polly's Instagram highlight for their collaboration with Bratz. The iconic Bratz lips appears on screen with a link to sign up for Bratz x Oh Polly's official waitlist.

2. Bobby Jack

Bobby Jack leverages their early 2000s popularity to connect with younger Millennials and Gen Z. Along with new items, the apparel brand offers a vintage Y2K collection.

Between their affiliate marketing program and strong user-generated content strategy, Bobby Jack offers a masterclass in using nostalgia marketing. Their brand voice maintains the sassy, sarcastic humor Bobby Jack is known for, while still feeling modern and effortless.

You can see popular colloquial terms and phrases like, “Bobby Jack, for baddies only,” across their social channels. They use social media to join in on relevant conversations, trending sounds and topics for both younger and older audiences.

For example, in the Reel below, a sound clip from the popular reality TV show, Love is Blind, plays in the background as a model wears a pink jumpsuit. The caption reads, “You always want me when I’m gone, so don’t wait! Get your favorites now! Use code ‘FUN30’ for $$$ off your purchase.”

An Instagram Reel from Bobby Jack featuring a model wearing a pink jumpsuit. The caption reads, “You always want me when I’m gone, so don’t wait! Get your favorites now! Use code ‘FUN30’ for $$$ off your purchase.”

The caption achieves the brand’s tone while referencing a niche topic relevant to both Gen Z and the OG Millennials audiences who remember “the little bad monkey with an attitude” who had the best comebacks.

The brand taps into 2000s nostalgia, like in the TikTok below that features one of their most nostalgic ensembles: a Bobby Jack tee, brown gauchos, a Blackberry phone and a tiny backpack with a keychain charm.

Bobby Jack Instagram Reel featuring one of their most well-known outfits: brown gauchos, a Bobby Jack tee and a tiny backpack. The comments reflect people enjoy the brand's modern comeback.

3. Lisa Frank

Lisa Frank’s recipe for modern appeal? Tried and true ingredients from the 80s—whimsical holographic fabrics, rainbows, sparkles and adorable animals—with a dash of social media and brand collaborations.

Lisa Frank embraces being a kaleidoscope of retro charm, grabbing the attention of older and younger audiences alike. The brand uses a multi-channel social media strategy with Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

Although they use social media to connect across generations, they definitely show love to the adults who grew up loving Lisa Frank. When they launched their TikTok page in 2023, they posted a video dedicated to OG Lisa Frank fans who are now adults with money to spend on their childhood obsession:

A TikTok from Lisa Frank shouting our fans who grew up loving the brand and are now adults with money to spend on their childhood obsession.

And people were definitely excited in the comments, asking for Lisa Frank kitchenware, adult planners and more:

The comments section under a video by Lisa Frank on TikTok. People are excited in the comments, asking for Lisa Frank kitchenware, adult planners and more.

Lisa Frank partners frequently with modern brands including Crocs, Morphe, Orly, Loungefly and Casetify. Their collaboration with Posh Peanut, a family apparel brand, is a great example of using nostalgia marketing to connect across generations. The adults who grew up on Lisa Frank are creating new memories with their children through pajamas.

An Instagram post from Lisa Frank and Posh Peanut announcing a giveaway for their family pajama collection.

Create lasting impressions through nostalgia marketing

As you can see, there is an endless reservoir of nostalgia-inducing opportunities for brands to activate. Want to learn more about using nostalgia to cultivate community and longevity? Watch our webinar about using nostalgia and innovation to elevate your creative performance.