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How to Use Nostalgia Psychology in Business Part 1

Updated: Apr 1

Nostalgia. It's delicate but potent. Nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.

This device isn't a spaceship. It's a time machine. It goes backward and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.

It's not called the wheel. It's called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels around and around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.

I can pretend I came up with that amazing explanation of nostalgia, but it's actually from an episode of Mad Men. It was Don Draper who gave that eloquent speech about nostalgia.

If you don't know what Mad Men is, it was a TV show that aired from 2007 to 2015. Don Draper was a successful advertising executive in the 1960s known for being smooth and charming as well as his ability to create compelling advertising campaigns.

What I loved about this quote is that he describes the power of nostalgia and how it transports us back to a place or a time that has special meaning or significance to us. He even gets into the fact that nostalgia is a powerful emotion that can be evoked through advertising and other forms of storytelling to create a connection with your audience.

You can use nostalgia psychology to find that connection with your audience. Whether your audience is colleagues at a work meeting, your employees, or your clients, you can use the psychology behind nostalgia in your everyday life.

Definition of Nostalgia

What is nostalgia? From a psychological perspective, it's a complex emotional response characterized by a sense of longing or wistfulness for the past.

It's when you smell something that brings you back to when you were a child or a teenager. It could also be a song that transports you back to an event that has a fond memory. It could even be an old photograph.

Recently, I had nostalgia for a video game. One of my sons has a Nintendo Switch and wanted me to play with him. I'm not very good at the video games of today, but I could totally kill Super Mario Brothers back in the day when I had the very first Nintendo.

I told my son I don't really know how to play these new games; I need one where you go in one direction without a lot of other options. I used Mario Brothers as an example. Lo and behold, my son was able to download it. We spent hours playing Mario Brothers together. Just the sound took me back down that memory lane of being seven years old.

What was also interesting was my muscle memory. I remembered certain tricks and tactics, which shows how nostalgia helps us focus on something and even remember our past.

Nostalgia wasn't always considered a good thing. In the late 19th century, nostalgia was believed to be a medical disease and even a psychological disorder similar to depression. We don't believe that now, but this does show that nostalgia was even identified as a strong force in the 19th century.

Nostalgia Psychology

Several theories that explain why we experience nostalgia and how it impacts our emotions and behaviors. One theory is that nostalgia serves a psychological function by helping us cope with feelings of loneliness, boredom, and anxiety. When thinking about past experiences and who these nostalgic stories are shared with, people feel a sense of social connectedness and belonging.

Nostalgia Advertising

Now I want to focus on nostalgia in business. Brands are absolutely using nostalgia. Understanding how they use nostalgia in advertising can help you figure out how nostalgia serves a purpose in your business or job.

Understand that many large companies have identified that customers have an emotional response to the past.

I was at Target buying UNO cards one day. They had a box that said, "Retro UNO Cards." I wanted to have memories of playing when I was younger, so I bought the retro deck.

Many companies have successfully marketed products by incorporating retro designs. Nike and Coca-Cola did this when they brought back their original designs.

Some companies have even created entire marketing campaigns around histology. These organizations develop campaigns that evoke feelings of the past to increase nostalgia and appeal to customers.

A car company might create an ad featuring a classic car model and a catchy jingle from the past. A snack food company might create an ad featuring a theme song that takes you back to the 1970s or 1980s, depending on the audience.

There are also remakes and reboots, which we see in TV shows, movies, and video games. Think about the release of new Star Wars movies or the revival of classic TV shows like Will & Grace that generate excitement and nostalgia among fans of the original.

Coca-Cola, which I mentioned before, also ran its Share a Coke campaign that was designed to help consumers engage in nostalgia for the classic Coca-Cola brands.

In the commercials, they showed the classic Coke bottle and encouraged people to share the bottle with friends and loved ones. It was about nostalgia as well as creating new experiences.

Using Nostalgia in Business

When we start looking around us, we can see that there are many companies using nostalgia. Now you should ask yourself if this psychological resource is something you're incorporating into your business or as part of your marketing team. Are you thinking about what would truly pull your customers in?

If you have a non-marketing role in the workplace, you can still ask yourself how to incorporate nostalgia into your job. How can you communicate in such a way that encourages that feeling of nostalgia? Who do you work with? Can you share nostalgic memories from shared events to build a team?

Incorporating nostalgia could also mean asking how you can bring in more customers. What targets them? Is it going to be things from the 1970s? Is it something from the 1990s? Are there certain songs that evoke feelings of nostalgia in your customers? These questions come down to understanding who your audience is from a customer perspective.


Now that we've gotten pretty deep into nostalgia psychology, you're probably going to look around a little bit more and see how companies are using it to target you as a customer. There's a lot to say about nostalgia, so be sure to check out Part 2 soon.


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