Marketing Briefing: ‘In times of uncertainty, we crave familiarity’: Why nostalgia marketing is everywhere right now

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Nostalgia marketing is nothing new — brands, movie studios and fast-food chains, to name a few, have focused on the strategy for years — but a fresh wave of ad campaigns are bringing it back this fall. The move is strategic — showing people a time prior to COVID-19 can remind them of when they were potentially happier and thereby help brands to reconnect with them, according to agency execs.

A slew of brands adopted this strategy recently:

With the continued pandemic due to the variants, marketers and agency execs expect nostalgia marketing to continue as people want to harken back to simpler times. That being said, agency execs caution overinvesting in this strategy lest a brand get lost in the fray.

“In times of uncertainty, we crave familiarity so this shift towards nostalgia-based marketing simply reflects the psychological needs most of us have right now: comfort and stability,” said Andrew Quay, vp and group strategy director at Deutsch NY. “It’s the same reason why we’ve seen a rise in consumer spending on comfort foods, home improvement supplies, pet adoption, and athleisure apparel over the last year. Brands that are shaping their creative around nostalgic references are injecting us with a dose of serotonin to appeal to that happy place that has been buried inside of us far too long.”

Kari Shimmel, chief strategy officer at Campbell Ewald echoed that sentiment. “The pandemic created the ‘quarantine reflection’ giving us the time to remember and be comforted by familiar things,” said Shimmel, adding that the shop was behind the classic Chevy ad reinvented by Fieri. “For marketers, it’s less about tapping into the simple and more about connecting to the familiar in a new way. For legacy brands, this helps reinforce their stability, while also framing their core values to be relevant for today.”

Finding ways to connect with older — and younger — generations could also be driving the latest wave of nostalgia marketing, according to agency execs. “By-gone pop culture references also resonate with much younger audiences as well thanks to new mediums like TikTok,” noted Martin’s vp and creative director, Justin Harris; the shop is behind the Geico nostalgia spots. “Everyone’s searching for fresh content and sometimes that means looking backwards, as generations past have done as well.”

Brands still have to be genuine, though, which will be easy to spot if they take on nostalgia as a marketing strategy just to fit in.

“Nostalgia works when it strikes a chord in culture and is in service of a good idea,” said Danny Price, associate creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi; the shop is behind the recent nostalgia-infused campaign from Goldfish. “But nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake probably won’t lead to a memorable campaign. People have so much nostalgia coming at them from TV and movie reboots and social media content that tapping into that trend could easily get lost in the mix. But when it feels connected to a product or brand, taps into a cultural trend and is specific enough to stand out from the nostalgia crowd, it can still be a powerful tool.” 

3 Questions with Thumbtack’s head of marketing, Amanda Reierson

A lot is being asked of marketing leaders in 2021. As head of marketing, how do you show (or plan to show) the c-suite the importance of marketing strategy?

My goal at Thumbtack is to build a household brand that delivers a delightful customer experience — which will ultimately win homeowners’ loyalty. As the new head marketer, it’s important to show our c-suite the value of investing in the brand, building off of all of the great work that has been done to date, to positively impact the bottom line. I believe in this company, the people, and the mission and can’t wait to tell the world more about it. With that said, in an environment where every dollar counts, senior leaders need to see a strong business case around big initiatives on the marketing roadmap. Transparency and accountability are key with a clear learning agenda around measuring success as well as understanding near and long-term business impact.

With brand purpose becoming front and center again, how do you balance it with business goals?

I look at brand purpose and business goals as two sides of the same coin. When setting business objectives in marketing, you have to be relentless about prioritizing your customer’s needs and preferences as it relates to your larger purpose. If a marketer is successful at building a strong brand and has a product or service that solves a major pain point for customers, business results should naturally follow. Marketing leaders need to be aware of reaching the right customer with the right message at the right time and infusing a brand’s purpose into every touchpoint and interaction.

More than ever before, we now have the technology to experiment with different messaging and experiences at scale — driving correlations that will help us to prioritize the initiatives with the highest return. It’s all about creating that emotional connection that keeps customers coming back for more. We’ve seen brands do it well in digital shopping as well as other categories, and you will be hearing a lot more from Thumbtack — which makes life easier for homeowners and is the fastest-growing company in this space.

As the role of a marketing leader changes, what has become a primary responsibility?

The primary responsibility of a marketing leader — and one of the biggest challenges of marketing — is to really understand the customer mindset so that you can cut through the clutter and create authentic connections. Marketing leaders must balance brand awareness and customer experience with business growth strategy, and wear all of those hats well. Additionally, it’s crucial for a marketing leader to set a clear vision and roadmap for their team, where everyone understands how their contributions ladder up to both marketing goals and broader company objectives. An invested team is one of the most important ingredients to success. — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

As more marketers look for authentic ways to engage online shoppers, influencer marketing is becoming a key part of their strategy. As the space continues to grow and digital shopping habits change, studies show that e-commerce sites that leverage not just influencers, but user-generated content from people who actually use the product are more likely to land a sale. A new study from Stackla, a content marketing platform, reveals online shoppers are more likely to purchase after seeing reviews and other content produced by social media users. Find the breakdown below: 

  • 72% of people say photos and videos from real customers is the content they most want to see on e-commerce sites when making purchasing decisions
  • 59% of respondents say content created by other consumers (i.e. UGC) is the most authentic type of content
  • Only 10% of consumers say influencer content resonates as authentic — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“We see a world where publisher data replaces third-party data to a large extent, particularly at the premium end where we would typically operate with other larger publisher brands looking to drive mid to upper-funnel impacts for marketers.”

— Ben Walmsley, commercial director for publishing at News U.K., told news editor Seb Joseph of its effort to retool its approach to data for a world without the third-party cookie.

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