The Power of Nostalgia in Social Media Marketing



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The popularity of #ThrowbackThursday, Timehop, and Facebook’s “On This Day” just goes to show how well nostalgia and social media go together. With individuals creating and consuming content at such a speed, encouraging your audience to pause and reflect on the past can be incredibly lucrative, providing you can make it mean something relevant and exciting.

A new nostalgia

In today’s world, nostalgia is no longer reserved for faded photos and fuzzy memories. While the past has never exactly stayed in the past, the commodification of nostalgia means that now more than ever, the past is encroaching on the present.

It’s possible that brands’ desire to engage with millennials has a part to play in this The tail end of Generation Y has grown up in a world where, thanks to social media, every memory and photo they have is as accessible as any other. No more digging through photo albums, home videos or old diaries. When this is the case, what room is there for conventional nostalgia?

We create so much content that it’s not surprising how many of these “memories” thrown up by Timehop are unworthy of sentimentality — not everything that happens (and by extension, is posted to Facebook) is an important moment in our life. Some are just things that have happened. We’d have forgotten about them, if Timehop hadn’t reminded us.

What this does prove, though, is that people are fond of nostalgia, even when their memories are curated for them. But for brands, asking people to curate these memories themselves can be even more powerful.

Memories in Marketing

The fact that social media is redefining what counts as the past is not a bad thing for marketers. When your customers can access their memories at the click of a button, it’s much easier for them to share with you. Nostalgia is now inclusive, and social.

The best use of nostalgia in marketing is not forced, but organic. Keep track of cultural trends and tap into them. Nineties nostalgia has been particularly big for the past couple of years, and it’s not just fashion brands that can capitalise on that. Sony, for example, ran the successful #playstationmemories campaign:

Likewise, national holidays are a great opportunity for inciting communal yet personal nostalgia. Coca-Cola’s famous Christmas ads are perhaps the best example of this.

To celebrate Father’s Day this year, British travel retailer Holiday Hypermarket ran a social competition called #Holidads, encouraging people to send in photographs of their dads on holiday via Instagram and Twitter. While the prize was small (a goodie bag), the social media campaign was still incredibly successful. 


This is a great example of how the technology of new nostalgia can be used to bring a fresh perspective to old memories. Our lives are stored neatly in Facebook albums, or in chronological order on our Instagram profiles. It’s much easier now to seek out key moments in our lives — and we don’t need Timehop to tell us what those key moments are. When reframed in the context of a campaign like #Holidads, a photo of dad buried in the sand on the beach becomes more than just a funny memory — it becomes a celebration of that man as a father.

With personal value being such an effective sales tool —with 68% of consumers willing to pay more for a product if it appeals to them on a personal or emotional level — it’s not surprising that nostalgia is so big in the marketing world.

But people are wary. The Guardian accuses Timehop of making “data-gathering look like service” and to a certain extent, they’re right. On the other hand, people have been handing over their data to social networks for years, and despite the occasional outrage over the creepiness of targeted ads or the fact that Facebook Messenger can access your microphone, it doesn’t bother people enough to stop using these services, because they’re getting something in return.

As long as your campaigns are giving something back — whether that’s the chance to remember something in a different light, or the chance to make new memories entirely — looking to the past is something that can serve your brand well into the future.

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