How Nostalgia Is Influencing Consumer Purchasing Behavior


How Nostalgia Is Influencing Consumer Purchasing Behavior

When we see products that remind us of fond memories from the past, we think back to simpler times and how easy things used to be. Maybe your mom used to cook Pillsbury crescent rolls when you were younger, so every now and again you head to the grocery store and buy a tube of them to bring yourself back to those unforgettable moments.

When consumers are nostalgic about certain products or brands, they already have a deep and persisting emotional connection with those items. There’s a reason why cupcake sales went through the roof during an economic recession, after all. During difficult times, things like snacks and games become essential products because they are essential products; emotional health is an essential, too.  This is why brands, particularly during uncertain times, should consider nostalgic consumers an audience with a dormant but high purchase intent. 

That being the case, brands don’t have to go through the arduous process of convincing consumers to try a product in order to make a sale. By triggering this dormant purchase intent, they can leverage nostalgia to encourage consumers to make the emotional decision to reach into their wallet for a taste of what life used to be like. 

The rise of nostalgia-fueled purchasing behavior since the pandemic

Since the pandemic, the majority of us have spent more time at home than we're used to. 

Seeking a semblance of normalcy, many of us have opted to revisit our favorite joys from the past. For example, research has shown that more than half of consumers are watching television and movies and listening to music from back in the day.

“I believe many are turning to nostalgia, even if they do not consciously realize it, as a stabilizing force and a way to keep in mind what they cherish most,” explains Clay Routledge, a psychology professor at North Dakota State University.

The value of stability during a crisis should not be overlooked. In addition to movies and music, it turns out that consumers are increasingly inclined to buy all sorts of products that tap into this sense of nostalgia. With that in mind, here are some examples of nostalgia-fueled purchasing behavior since the pandemic.

1. Snacks we had as kids

Earlier this year, General Mills announced that Dunkaroos, the cookies-dipped-into-icing combo snack, would be on supermarket shelves for the first time in a while. It turns out that General Mills was on to something, as a whole slew of consumers have reverted to the processed foods that they grew up on to give them a bit of solace during the hectic times we’re all living in.

One study found that 71 percent of consumers enjoy things that remind them of growing up. This is one of the reasons why brands like Campbell’s Soup and Chef Boyardee have been doing very well over the past few months. Brands in the food business that are able to create products that meet these needs are poised to generate a lot of revenue.

2. Retro clothing

A number of clothing brands have pivoted their newer lines to incorporate nostalgia, to great effect.

For example, streetwear brand The Hundreds teamed up with Puma for a vintage collaboration, Sporty & Rich’s 2020 sweatshirt line is straight out of the 1990s, and Johnny Cupcakes released a line of 99 T-shirts with album covers from the 1990s. Similarly, sites that sell vintage clothing online, like Poshmark and Thredup, have been thriving.

3. Old-school video games

If you found yourself scrolling Amazon for old-school video games—think Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Nintendo 64—you’re not alone.

Retro gaming experienced a major resurgence as the pandemic forced everyone indoors. Prices for most games shot up considerably, and video game repair shops also saw business tick up.

Beyond these items, consumers are increasingly reverting to nostalgic hobbies like knitting and crocheting, baking, and puzzling. The list goes on and on.

Add it all up, and consumers aren’t so much interested in what comes next. They want to have the things that made them feel safe.

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How brands can capitalize on nostalgia

Capitalizing on nostalgia requires a nuanced approach. Consumers are nostalgic for different things, after all. 

What, specifically, can you do to make the most out of this trend?

1. Use creative that brings on feelings of nostalgia

If your brand already has nostalgic value, run a nostalgia based top of funnel campaign to capture an audience that is responsive to this. This audience is gold. Develop a campaign to remarket to them.

Does your brand need a nostalgia bump? If so, identify what your target audience is nostalgic for and build campaigns or even products around that. For example, Pepsi recently created exclusive Mountain Dew flavors for gamers.

Brands might also want to find their nostalgia partner. Hershey’s, for example, has teamed up with DC Comics to put superheroes on their candy bars. Do you share an audience? Do you have audiences that could be introduced to each other? Run a joint campaign and test it out!

2. Target specific age ranges and specific locations in campaigns

If you want to trigger feelings of nostalgia in a baby boomer, maybe you can incorporate elements from Happy Days into your campaigns. If you want to trigger feelings of nostalgia in a millennial, maybe you can incorporate elements from Home Improvement into your campaigns. While someone who grew up in southern California might be nostalgic about the beach, someone who grew up in the Adirondacks might be nostalgic about the mountains.

You get the gist: People of different ages and people who grew up in different areas are all nostalgic about different things. To succeed at triggering nostalgia, you need to think about who you’re selling to and what messages resonate.

3. Bring families together

It’s no secret that many of us have been stuck inside with our loved ones for many months. Although we absolutely love these people, we just don’t love spending this much time together.

Trigger nostalgia by focusing on how your brand can bring joy to families. For example, when parents decide to buy a car, it’s not just their decision. The kids can get involved in the process too. Tapping into these sentiments can go a long way toward helping you bolster your bottom line.

Brands should be looking at their product portfolio holistically and consider the power of the nostalgic audience as an important segment. If you don't know who the members of that audience are, you need to identify it now. In addition to being a very powerful audience, this segment can also help you potentially identify what is going to sell out first at a retailer’s site, which has implications on inventory management.

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