Blast from the Past: The Power of Nostalgia Marketing

A recent study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology suggests that mindfulness (focusing on current and future events) may be better for one’s overall health and well-being than pining for the past. Still, in an uncertain world, there’s a certain solace that comes from indulging in nostalgia, and it’s like the mental equivalent of comfort food!

Brands and marketing specialists alike have picked up on the power of the past. From flashbacks to brand reboots to film remakes, 2021 has been the Year of Nostalgia. Let’s jump in our time machine and revisit some of this year’s best throwbacks.

Nick Jr. and Steve from Blue’s Clues

If you’re a Millennial, you probably remember Steve Burns. Decked out in a striped, green shirt and baseball cap, Steve was a friend and companion to many of us. When he abruptly departed the show in 2002, fans were left feeling confused, and some even felt a sense of abandonment.

Fast forward to September 2021. Commemorating the 25th anniversary of Blues Clues, Nick Jr posted a video to their Twitter account featuring none other than our good friend Steve. In addition to clearing up any confusion regarding his sudden departure, Steve offered reassuring words for these uncertain times. This tweet from Nic Jr has over 7,000 shares, and the YouTube video shared by ABC7 has received 2,794,900 views.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

When you want to come out on top at the box office, who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!

Ghostbusters: Afterlife takes place in the present day, almost 40 years after Egon, Spengler, Venkman, and Stantz saved New York City from a giant pile of ectoplasm, with the help of the Statue of Liberty and Jackie Wilson. Rather than being a stand-alone reboot, “Afterlife” is a legacy sequel, picking up decades after Ghostbusters 2 was on the big screen and featured several (if not most) of the original cast members. Written and directed by Jason Reitman (son of the original director, Ivan Reitman, who was a producer on this film), “Afterlife” has raked in 164.7 million (so far) at the box office making it one of the top films of the year.

Beggin’ (Maneskin)

If you’ve logged into TikTok anytime in the last few months, chances are you’ve heard the hit cover of “Beggin'” by Italian rock band Maneskin. The original track was popularized by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in 1967 and featured a jazzy piano line under the classic call-and-response lyrics. The Norwegian hip-hop duo Madcon put their spin on it in 2007, adding rap verses and some modified lyrics along with the sampled music. Maneskin recorded their cover in 2017 but did not release the song until 2021, following the band’s victory on the talent show Eurovision. After going viral on Tik Tok, “Beggin'” reached number one on the weekly charts in several countries, launching Maneskin to global fame. The song currently has over 815 million plays on Spotify.

JNCO and Goldfish

If you were a teenager in the 90s, nothing was cooler and more coveted than a pair of super-wide-leg JNCO jeans. JNCO became so synonymous with the 90s that it dedicated a portion of its webpage to the decade. In what seems like an odd yet brilliant pairing, JNCO has joined forces with Goldfish, the famous cracker brand, to provide the perfect flashback experience—a limited-edition pair of JNCO jeans designed to promote the (also limited-edition) Jalapeño Popper flavored Goldfish.

“Hot and spicy flavored snacks are on the rise, and so is 90s nostalgia. With a hit of heat, our savory and cheesy Jalapeño Popper Goldfish bring this unique 90s flavor to the Goldfish family,” said Danielle Brown, Vice President of Marketing, Campbell Snacks. “To take it to the next level, we connected the flavor of the 90s with the fashion of the 90s, and … it’s all that!”

Nostalgia and B2B Marketing

It’s easy to see how nostalgic campaigns might impact the consumer, but what about business? Nostalgia marketing comes with several benefits for B2B marketers. For example:

A wider audience is reached

Nostalgia, by definition, is directed toward the past. However, that doesn’t mean that a nostalgia campaign is limited to a particular demographic. Just the opposite is true. We already know that a nostalgia campaign will most likely resonate with the generation that first experienced the product’s advertisement. At the same time, it is possible (and some would say, vital) to appeal to a younger audience as well. For example, Millennials respond particularly well as a group to nostalgia campaigns. On the other hand, Gen Z is least likely to show interest in things that remind them of the past. Despite this, the styles and trends of the 1990s are back in vogue, as Millennials reflect on the halcyon days pre-Internet, and Gen Z-ers draws on the influence of the decade and put their spin on things. Take Lee jeans’ partnership with retail giant H&M. One of the “big 3” of denim production in the 1990s, Lee’s popularity had fizzled out by the end of the decade. Now, the clothing manufacturer seeks to attract a younger generation by creating a line of 90’s-inspired fashion that is size-inclusive and made entirely from sustainable materials. Lee appeals to a broader, cross-generational audience by combining throwback trends with current technology.

A human connection is made.

A hallmark of nostalgia marketing is the way that it tells a story. People respond when they know there is a person behind the message. In 2018, Adidas launched a shoe line commemorating Billie Jean King’s historic victory over Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match. One award-winning ad in the campaign showed Billie Jean King spray-painting a pile of sneakers blue—a reference to the iconic blue shoes she wore during the infamous match. In addition, Adidas set up booths at the US Open, where fans could bring any brand of sneaker and have an artist paint them blue with the exclusive BJK logo. The campaign showed a 20% increase in sneakers sales, and the value of the shoes has only gone up with time.


Whether you choose to #waybackwednesday, #throwbackthursday, or #flashbackfriday, it is crucial to the success of your campaign to make personal and relevant connections with your audience. Nostalgia marketing is one way to make that connection. Our current blog series has several other campaign suggestions to help you hit your campaign goals.

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