Selling NostalgiaYou’ve no doubt noticed it: Products from the past are making a comeback. Coke and Pepsi have recently introduced throwback versions of their soft drinks. Mrs. Butterworth, Strawberry Shortcake, Atari (the list goes on) have all returned. And advertisers like Bumble Bee Tuna are reviving their old jingles.

Marketers of products such as these are pushing nostalgia in the hope that “in times of anxiety (such as economic recessions), reviving feelings about the past will soothe consumers’ nerves,” say the authors of a new research report.

How might a retro product soothe a frazzled buyer? The researchers set out to find the answer. Particularly, they focused on a human emotion relevant to the age of social media: the need to belong.

In a series of five experiments, they explored whether subjects feeling socially “excluded” demonstrated a preference for nostalgic products. They divided shoppers up to experience an “exclusion condition” (where they were ignored during a group activity), an “inclusion condition” and a “neutral condition.” Following the group activity, participants were offered choices of contemporary or retro products.

Across all five experiments, the authors found that “activating the goal to belong in a variety of ways consistently increases one’s interest in consuming nostalgic products, such as television shows, food, automobiles—even shower gel.”

Based on their findings, the authors offer these suggestions for marketers:

  • Sell retro products through channels in which consumers socialize, such as stores within restaurants, bars or coffee shops.
  • Create online brand communities in which consumers can interact and bond over the brand they have in common.
  • Link those communities to an online retro-product store.

Nostalgia has a social side. Consider marketing retro-themed products through social hot spots and online communities: Your customers might enjoy the connection.

Source: “Still Preoccupied with 1995: The Need to Belong and Preference for Nostalgic Products” by Katherine E. Loveland, Dirk Smeesters and Naomi Mandel.