Marketing Briefing: McDonald’s, Fender, others tap nostalgia marketing as ‘consumers are looking for a sort of escape’

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The future is looking a lot like the past.

Younger generations are finding style inspiration in fashion from the ‘90s and early aughts — low rise jeans and thin eyebrows are making a dreaded comeback. Blink 182 just announced a reunion tour. And Hocus Pocus 2 just premiered earlier this month, allowing generations young and old to check in on the Sanderson sisters this Halloween. 

Marketers are catching on to this renewed wave of nostalgia once again with brands like Fender, Pabst Blue Ribbon and McDonald’s (with the chain’s new Happy Meals for adults) tapping into the trend. While nostalgia marketing is far from new — marketers and agency execs say there have been waves of brands tapping into the trend for decades — there’s a sense that the trend is once again more popular. 

“Nostalgia happens in marketing when we either don’t have a vision for the future, or don’t like what the future looks like,” said  Rob Schwartz, chairman of TBWA NY Group. “It’s a bit of the latter. Things seem a bit grim with Inflation and war and stressful U.S. elections. Nostalgia can be fun. But soon enough a brand has to talk about now and next.” 

Trevor Guthrie, co-founder of Giant Spoon, echoed that sentiment, noting media and brands tapping into the nostalgia trend, such as Shopify using the voice of AOL’s “You’ve Got Mail,” are doing so as consumers are unsettled due to the current climate.

“We’re witnessing a resurgence of marketing that taps into nostalgia because consumers are looking for a sort of escape from our current reality,” said Guthrie. “People are longing for what once was: a simpler time filled with familiarity and safety. And brands should be taking note. This isn’t a fleeting trend that we’ll be wistful about; it’s an economy that’s here to stay.” 

For marketers and agency execs, leaning into the trend can allow brands to feel “more accessible and increase the magnetism of brands” as there’s almost a “mental shorthand” with recognizable bits of nostalgia, noted Will Sandwick, chief data officer at Wunderman Thompson. “It’s an opportunity for brands to be more inspiring to more people.” 

The “collective experience of 2020 reinforced a desire to return to simple things,” as Gavin Lester, CCO at Zambezi noted when asked about the overall consumer mood leading to nostalgia in marketing. That said, “Discovering doesn’t always mean looking forward; finding inspiration happens in all directions, and not everything is worth leaving behind.” 

Though some brand exes will see a renewed wave of nostalgia marketing as an easy way to get consumer attention, some caution doing so as not all people will feel the same way about looking to the past. 

“Genuine nostalgia (and vintage items) is a flex,” said Jamil Buie, director of business development, at Campbell Ewald. “Paying a premium for an aesthetic or a feeling runs counter to a consumer that might be forced to sell their vintage Big E Levis or Jordans to make a car note. More affluent people will acquire items that find their way to the secondary market. And with that in mind, the secondary market may be a good predictor of which way certain consumers feel things are headed.”

3 Questions with ​​Debbie Weinstein, vp of global advertiser solutions for Google and YouTube

How are you approaching Advertising Week this year? 

The conversations we’ll be having at Advertising Week are about how we translate our leadership in the creator economy for marketers to help them grow their businesses. We think YouTube is particularly well suited to help advertisers adapt to this world of content and reach consumers across multiple experiences [but in particular] we’ll be talking about shopping, audio and streaming.  

Tell us a bit about what you’re announcing there. 

With shopping, YouTube has long been a place for people to discover new products. We’re going to be sharing new research from Talkshoppe that viewers tell us that YouTube is the number one platform where people research products or brands and make a decision about a purchase so as part of that we’re going to be expanding what we call “product feeds” to more ad types across YouTube. We’re also announcing that we’re hosting our holiday live shopping event, From YouTube to You, that will start in November. 

As for audio, according to Edison, YouTube is the second most popular destination for listening to podcasts. I think that will be big news in the market. I’m not sure people today think of us as a big player for podcasting. To help advertisers reach this audience, we’re going to launch audio ads around the world and have some new offerings for advertisers, including the ability to specifically reach podcast listeners. 

To capitalize on the streaming audiences, you’ve got a new ad product, Moments Blast. Can you tell us a bit more about it? What is it? 

The idea of a Moment Blast is that a marketer is looking to be part of a moment. It could be something related to a moment they’ve created, like say Pumpkin Spice season, or a moment that’s happening in culture, like say Mother’s Day. We hear a lot from marketers – whether they are launching a new product or movie – that they really want to get out there with that momentum so what we’re doing is pulling a series of our [ad] products together to help marketers make the most of these moments. It will be an opportunity to be the very first in-stream ad that viewers will see on YouTube. We’re also offering to couple that with masthead [sponsorship], which is our biggest reach, most scaled product across all of our ads on YouTube.

By the numbers

Talk of economic downturn means advertisers are holding their dollars a little closer to the chest. For retail advertising, that means getting more selective about ad spend distribution by cutting out products from ad catalogs, according to new research from DataFeedWatch by, a product data optimization tool. More key findings from the report below:

  • 64.74% of e-commerce marketers implement a product exclusion strategy as a way of controlling how the campaign budget is being spent.
  • The top factor motivating almost 16% of marketers’ decisions to cut items from campaigns is the product price.
  • In nearly 91% of cases, advertisers opt for removing products below a specified price, which suggests their focus may currently be on products backed by significant profit margins — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“When business is booming, sure, go ahead and spend on marketing. But as soon as a recession hits, they think that marketing should be turned off, because that’s where they need to save money. And yet, that’s the best time to [spend], because so many people are cutting back and get more for your buck.”

— An exec overheard at the Digiday Media Buying Summit in California last week on why clients should keep spending despite the economic downturn.

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