Throwback Marketing & Design: Why Nostalgia Works

Monday, April 8th, 2024

Throwback Marketing & Design: Why Nostalgia Works

Ahh, nostalgia! Nothing gets us wistful and misty-eyed like the thought of days gone by – which is what makes it such an effective marketing and design tool.

If Fashion is Your Passion, Consider This

Ever noticed how style and fashion trends tend to boomerang? In other words, what’s trendy today will probably be trendy again in about 20-30 years. 

It’s funny when you think about it: what’s not cool today will eventually be cool to your kids or grandkids. The same clothes you wore (and then said “That’s so last year!”) about will one day be worn by your kids and hailed as the ultimate fashion statement. 

(Probably while telling you that you have no idea about fashion. My response: “Don’t cite the deep magic to me: I was there when it was written!”)

Why Do We Love a Good Throwback?

Memories are tied into our sensory perception. That’s why a familiar smell, song, or flavor can make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. That’s also why a familiar design can give you a clear picture of what things were like way back then.

Did you know that there are more than one type of nostalgia? Here’s a list:

  • Conventional/personal nostalgia. This is the one that most people think of: a longing remembrance. This version of nostalgia is mostly a positive feeling, but mixed with a longing for what’s gone.
  • Anticipated nostalgia. This form of nostalgia is knowing that, one day, you’ll have nostalgia for a specific experience. (An example is watching your toddler play and thinking, “I’m going to miss these years one day.”) It’s mostly a positive feeling too, helping you savor the moments while they last.
  • Anticipatory nostalgia. While it sounds similar to anticipated nostalgia, anticipatory nostalgia is missing what you haven’t lost yet, while you’re still experiencing it. (Confusing, we know!) In other words, it’s missing something that you still have, and it’s super complex. This is considered a more negative form of nostalgia, due to the difficulty people experience enjoying the present moment. 
  • Historical nostalgia/anemoia. This form of nostalgia is a longing for a time period that you didn’t live in. If you’ve ever felt like you were “born in the wrong generation,” you probably have experienced this. This seems to be more associated with negative emotions: cynicism, dissatisfaction, etc.

The Magic of Nostalgia in Design

Think of the color “avocado.” Now picture it on a wall in a room with shag carpeting and tangerine-colored appliances. What era are you in? 

If a fairly recent TV show about a witch and an android taught us anything, it’s the 70s! That’s the magic of nostalgia. It applies to all forms of design: interior design, fashion, graphic design, and more. It can make you feel like you did when you experienced those same times yourself.

Pros and Cons of Nostalgic Marketing

Let’s discuss the benefits and drawbacks of nostalgic marketing

Benefit #1: It can build relationships with your target audience.

Using nostalgic marketing can help build stronger relationships with your target audience if they grew up in the era you’re creating a “throwback” to. One example: special edition “classic” packaging and recipes for brands. They quickly become collectibles for brand loyalists!

Benefit #2: It can create excitement.

If you do it right, you’ll make your audience think back to the period you’re conjuring memories of, and they’ll share the content with others their age – adding to the impact and increasing your number of potential clients. Nintendo’s “Two Brothers” ad did this well. It reminded watchers of what it was like growing up with siblings while holding out the hope that they’d get a new opportunity to bond with them all over again. 

Benefit #3: It can help you stand out. 

Nostalgic marketing isn’t done often, and when it is, it’s not done super well. If you can make your marketing efforts come across as genuine and authentic without alienating audience membmers in other demographics, you’ll stand out from your competitors.

Drawback #1: It’s hard to get it right.

According to this article by Chief Marketer (which, in itself, is a throwback to 2017), nostalgia doesn’t stand on its own very well. Ideally, it should tie into something else – brand values, etc. – to spark brand loyalty. 

How to spark brand loyalty through  nostalgic design: connect the design to your values. Nintendo did this wonderfully with their ad – tying their product into the memories of growing up alongside siblings and providing Nintendo fans an opportunity to reconnect with their siblings. 

Drawback #2: It doesn’t work for some niches.

If you’re creating a cutting-edge SaaS solution, you may not want to use nostalgic marketing, or you may want to rethink how you do it.  

Showing pictures of retro computers doesn’t exactly scream “cutting-edge tech.” 

How to do nostalgic design with modern tech: If you’re going to feature an image of clunky or outdated tech, consider using a tagline like, “Is your CRM stuck in the 80s?” (Note: you’ll want to avoid using anything that directly points to another brand as the example of “stuck in the 80’s” tech.)

Drawback #3: It could have a negative effect.

Nostalgic marketing has a different effect on each generation. Perhaps you’re targeting older people, but you’ve got a good client base that’s young. If so, they might be turned off by throwback marketing that’s ignoring their demographic. Similarly, older generations might be irked by a throwback to a time period where they felt the good old days were already gone. 

Remember, nostalgia really only works if the target audience enjoyed that era. What if you’ve got a client who loves your product or service, but your ad reminds them of a memory they want to forget? 

How to make sure nostalgic design doesn’t have a negative impact: Choose a starting point that most generations can relate to, even if they aren’t part of the target audience. Going back to the Nintendo ad, even the parents of 80’s or 90’s kids would remember that their kids  bonded over video games. And kids of 80’s kids will likely remember stories their parents have told them about playing games together!

Throw it Back with an Experienced Designer

Fun fact about us: we’ve been doing graphic design for so long, there’s a chance we were creating designs similar to the one you want a throwback of! At Matcha Design, we’ve seen a lot of changes to design, whether it be website design (Adobe Flash Player, we’re looking at you), logo design, or preferred typography.

We’d be happy to take on your next nostalgic project (it’ll probably hit us right in the feels too). Contact us to learn how we can help you convey the exact vibes you want!

About Matcha Design

Matcha Design is a full-service creative B2B agency with decades of experience executing its client’s visions. The award-winning company specializes in web design, logo design, branding, marketing campaign, print, UX/UI, video production, commercial photography, advertising, and more. Matcha Design upholds the highest personal standards for excellence and can see things from a unique perspective due to its multicultural background.  The company consistently delivers custom, high-quality, innovative solutions to its clients using technical savvy and endless creativity. For more information, visit MatchaDesign.com.

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