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The Shocking Truth About Using Nostalgia to Market Your Business

Companies have used nostalgia to sell their products for eons. Here's the surprising reason it works so well and how you can take advantage of it yourself.

It’s no secret that tapping into people’s memories of their youth can be a useful tool for selling them stuff. Advertisers have worked to tie their products to remembrances of simpler days for years, be it through imagery that evokes small town values or throwbacks to retro fashions. Oftentimes this approach has come under scrutiny, with critics claiming that it is a cynical effort to manipulate consumers’ most treasured memories for nothing more than shifting units.

However, recent research has revealed the reason nostalgia holds such sway over us. As it turns out, helping foster nostalgic feelings in people is one of the greatest things you can do for them.

In a series of experiments, researchers asked a group of people to describe how they felt when contemplating their own deaths. Thinking about this question can provoke a great deal of distress in many people, but what the psychologists behind the experiment found was quite surprising.

When assessed in the aftermath of the experiment, those participants who reported being less prone to nostalgia were far more likely to have a hard time shaking their negative emotions. On the other hand, the participants that did report being more prone to nostalgia found it easier to cope with the fear of death and were more resilient in general.

When we evoke nostalgia in our advertisements, imagery, or online content, it is not simply about making our prospects think, “Oh, I remember that.” Nostalgia is, at its core, a deep longing for and connection with something bigger than ourselves. People who are able to see themselves in the context of their past, their roots, and their culture have a positive bank of memories to draw from, which allows them to feel linked in to others and to avoid the existential despair that comes from viewing oneself as an isolated and doomed individual.

Heavy stuff, but worth keeping in mind. Businesses that stand the test of time are those that exist for a purpose that extends simply beyond making money. They create and foster meaning. They stand for a concept or a movement, not just for a product. Harnessing the power of nostalgia in your own sales and marketing is one step toward fostering a movement of your own.


Last updated: Jun 5, 2014

MICHAEL SCHEIN | Columnist | Founder and principal of Michael Schein Communications

Michael Schein is the founder and principal of Michael Schein Communications, a digital marketing company. He has created or facilitated the production of content for companies such as eBay, LinkedIn, Avectra, Tesla, SEER Interactive, Interneer, Arise Virtual Solutions, and Citrix. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with honors and got his start at Spin the Bottle, the production company behind VH1 hit show Pop Up Video.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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