Nostalgiacore in Marketing

March 13, 2024
Lo Robinson

I still remember the first time I listened to Shannon Nolls’ version of “What About Me?” and consequently listened to it on repeat for the next two years. Now, when it occasionally plays (because I am that person that just listens to their liked songs on shuffle) I fight the urge to dramatically drop to my knees to sing the bridge like I did all those times as a kid. Even if you don’t have similar feelings about the 2003 Australian Idol Runner-up, you could definitely name a song, a meal, or a scent that evokes a familiar warmth for a different time. 

Nostalgia is a concept that has been around long before it had a name. It’s this innate sense of longing for the past, and as you might have guessed, it has only ramped up in recent times – largely due to covid. Now we are finding that people are not only aching for the world before the pandemic, but that the time period between something being current and nostalgic is rapidly decreasing. 

Maxim Kabakov from UM Worldwide says that:

“In the future, expect to see even more of a collapse between nostalgia and the present. Something that happened only a few months ago could be ripe for ‘nowstalgia.” 



If we begin to look at how nostalgia can be used in content, this means that quite literally everything is up for grabs. The 50’s, 90’s, the Y2K trends, the cow print of 2021, Cottagecore of 6 months ago, it can all be strategically harnessed to appeal to your audience and tug at their heartstrings. It’s relatable and authentic – cornerstones of effective advertising. 

As demographics shift and age, younger generations are becoming the primary consumer base for many brands. Companies have recognised that their consumers have a strong interest in “retro and vintage” aesthetics, making Nostalgia Marketing a great way to connect and engage those limited-attention-span-gen-z’ers (myself included). 

Technology these days allows us to make the very hi-fi, calculated content that we create look as though it was filmed on a handheld camcorder from the early 2000’s. We can add grain to photos to take away those crisp, high-definition pixels from the very expensive equipment we worked hard to buy. This is what Gen-Z wants. The effortlessness of childhood.

Although of course Nostalgia is not limited to a singular generation. Anyone and everyone can, and will, experience nostalgia. If done well, it is a smart and effective way for brands to make use of it to appeal to consumers.



This specificity opens up the opportunity to be intentional about your target audience and learn what references will engage them the most. We have seen nostalgia taking its place in film and TV recently, with movies like Barbie, Mean Girls, and shows like Stranger Things. 

Barbie (2023) took centre stage last year, for the way it grabbed a hold of nostalgia and brought a childhood toy to life. People flocked to the cinemas, eager to have a piece of their younger years in the now, and by the end it had many in tears. This movie was destined to be a success because it not only spoke to the people who remembered their Barbie collection, but also held space for the children who only know Barbie from her occasionally concerning YouTube series. It was entertaining overall but succeeded in unlocking core memories for its target audience. 

Stranger Things is another example of this – it’s a television show that young people love, but due to its 80’s-centric setting, it has garnered an older audience who loves to see their younger years play out on screen – sans monsters and flickering lights. 

Mean Girls (2024) had everyone talking about the revamp of an iconic 2000’s movie, and although it kind of fell flat, everyone was still feeling that nostalgia for the first time they saw Rachel McAdams get hit by a bus.

While most of us won’t be writing feature films centred around iconic moments in time anytime soon, there’s many ways we can build nostalgia into our branded content. If you’re targeting millennials, you can derive inspiration from the ‘90s and early 2000’s – think Friends or popular TV sitcoms, blue eyeshadow and dangerously low-rise jeans. Or, if your audience skews towards Gen X, you can consider the disco, flare pants, hairspray fuelled 70’s.  You don’t have to think too hard to figure out what might resonate with your audience, but you can, and that’s what makes it such an enticing marketing tool. If you need to target a group of people who were between the ages of 15-20 in 2004, whose favourite colour was green, and had a dog named Max, there’s a way to do it through nostalgia. 

A more relevant example is Pepsi rebranding to a very similar logo as the one they had in 1972. They have gone through many logo changes over the years so this will not mean much to many, but for the people who were buying it back then, it is a subtle way to catch their eye as they walk past the bottles on the shelf at the supermarket. Plus a great example of design trends being cyclical.



TLDR is, you need to create that emotional hook, preferably without being irrelevant or cringey. Nostalgic ads have a 13% higher likelihood of going viral according to Kantar. Despite this, only 1% of all ads featured nostalgic content in 2023, so get in there before everyone catches on and your ads are stuck between graphics of Tamagotchi’s and brands trying to bring back the moustache trend of 2012.

Throwback content, such as old, recognisable branding or nostalgic tunes can be great ways of increasing engagement, as people are eager to point out that it is something they remember. Creating a collage of your product with a bottle of Fantasy by Britney Spears and a Juicy Couture tracksuit would call out to those Y2K lovers. On the other hand, writing copy that references the days of Blockbuster VHS rentals and suggesting a movie to watch while enjoying your food brand’s new recipe will engage others. 

If you’re not convinced, I’ll leave you with this; nostalgic content is evergreen. What is in the past will always be there – nothing can take that away. There are endless ways to tie the current into the past, it’s just about knowing what will and won’t work for your audience. What are you waiting for!? 



Lo is a Community and Social Media Coordinator at Milkbar Digital. Her mission is to tell meaningful stories and connect with people through social media. When she’s away from the desk you can find her writing poetry and taking videos of her daily adventures, friends, and any cats she finds along the way.

If you’d like to implement strategies like this but don’t know where to start, don’t stress. Milkbar Digital is here to help out, so get in touch!

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  1. This was such an interesting read! So good to have a name for this after seeing it pop up around the place.

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