15 Ads That Prove Nostalgia Is a Powerful Marketing Tactic
Nostalgia marketing is the advertising equivalent of comfort food.
In a time when most marketing focuses heavily on the future, it transports us back to a simpler place where our current problems don’t matter and the hustle and bustle of modernity just melts away. Instead of anticipating the next great thing, nostalgia marketing urges us to focus on the things we already know are great.
We know at a gut level that nostalgia gives our lives a feeling of meaning and continuity, but you may be surprised to learn it can also make us looser with our wallets. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that nostalgic feelings made participants more willing to spend money on consumer goods and services.
It would appear that advertisers have caught on. Over the past five years, nostalgic ads have been popping up left and right — with millennials as their main target.
Although these ads are getting more common, marketers have known that millennials would be a nostalgia-fueled generation for some time now.
Even in 2015, when many millennials were still young adults, nostalgia was a hot topic in publications like Digiday.
“Millennials are coming of age in an age of economic turmoil — a difficult job market,” Cassandra McIntosh, a senior insights analyst at Exponential, told Digiday. “Therefore, they end up romanticizing simpler times much more — even those times they weren’t around for.”
To give you inspiration for your own nostalgic campaigns, we selected 15 examples of advertisements that use nostalgia marketing. Watch them and see if you get the telltale bittersweet pangs associated with nostalgic feelings.
Examples of Nostalgic Ads
1. Motorola Razr
In the early 2000s, prior to smartphones, one of Motorola’s most popular cellphones was a tiny, flat flip phone called the Razr. Despite its number-based keyboard and a small screen, people loved it for it’s design and simplicity.
In 2019, Motorola gained buzz when it re-introduced a new and improved Razr which featured a folding touchscreen when opened.
In the commercial announcement, you see an old-school Razr lifting off of a table and flying through the air as its old layers peel off to reveal a new design. The phone then opens to reveal the Android-like touch screen.
Many children of the ’80s and ’90s remember playing Nintendo-based video games with their siblings. But, for the children growing up with siblings, many also remember the sad feelings related to growing apart or drifting away from a relative. This commercial highlights both of those memories by telling the story of two Nintendo-loving brothers who grow apart, argue as teenagers, and then happily reunite as adults to play the new Nintendo Switch together.
This commercial not only reminds people of what it was like to grow up with siblings, but it also reminds you of the great fun you had playing video games as a child. Then, because the brothers connect and chat virtually as the play Switch games at the end, it shows how Nintendo’s technology has evolved to connect old friends and relatives all around the world.
3. Australia Tourism Board
Instead of promoting a traditional ad that simply showed off Australia’s most beautiful destinations, Australia decided to disguise a tourism ad as a star-studded trailer for a fictional reboot to the ’80s film, Crocodile Dundee.
As those who watched the original Dundee series get excited by clips from the film, starring Chris Hemsworth and Jason Sudeikis, its revealed that Hemsworth tricked Sudeikis into a tourism ad. Despite the trickery, Hemsworth and Sudeikis still both agree that their trip to Australia was still the best vacation they’d ever taken.
This was a clever way to embrace the television and movie reboot trend of 2018 and 2019, while still highlighting the best Australia has to offer for tourism. Because it features actors who are popular in the present day, it’s also hilarious for both people who followed the Dundee films or either of the main characters in the fake reboot.
In 2016, music-streaming service Spotify unveiled a new spokesperson — er, spokes-dragon — in a 30-second ad produced by Wieden + Kennedy New York.
Falkor and his boy companion Atreyu (now a heavily bearded 44-year-old man) are both characters from the beloved 1984 fantasy film The NeverEnding Story. W+K even got the original actors to reprise their roles (Noah Hathaway as Atreyu and Alan Oppenheimer as the voice of Falkor).
The pair appear just as the film left them over 20 years ago: gliding through the clouds while the movie’s dramatic theme song plays in the background. “I can’t believe people still listen to this song!” Atreyu exclaims. His dragon agrees, they share a laugh, and the two speed off into a grainy, ’80s quality CG sky.
The tagline of Freia, a Norweigan chocolate company, is “Et lite stykke Norge” (A little piece of Norway). This spot for the company produced by SMFB Oslo fully encapsulates the sentiment in a simple, joyful way.
The plot follows a Norweigan expat in New York navigating a hectic life as a fashion stylist. When he returns home to his apartment one evening, he finds a half-eaten bar of Freia chocolate in his otherwise empty fridge. After just one bite, he’s inspired to hop on a plane back to Norway to visit his father and soak up the majestic landscape of his homeland. The ad ends with the stylist discovering a modest hair salon for sale in what is presumably his hometown.
The message is clear: A taste of Freia chocolate is inherently connected to Norway, no matter where in the world you may be.
Bob Ross — the beloved ’80s painting guru who passed away in 1995 — experienced an unexpected resurgence in popularity in 2016. After Netflix added his classic TV show, The Joy of Painting, to its streaming lineup, Ross became a trending topic on Instagram. Adobe took notice, and decided to pay homage to the late painter in a series of tutorial videos promoting their new Adobe Photoshop Sketch for the iPad Pro.
Authenticity was central to this nostalgic campaign. Adobe and agency Lekker Media collaborated with Bob Ross Inc. to make sure every detail was accurate, right down to the brand of clothing Ross wore on his show. Children’s book illustrator Chad Cameron, who plays Ross in the series, channels the artist’s relaxed, unpretentious demeanor perfectly.
“Bob’s wish was to inspire as many people as possible to be creative and to share it with others,” Joan Kowalski, media director at Bob Ross Inc., told Adweek. “Adobe’s ‘Joy of Sketching’ series reminds us that a company as big as Adobe shares in that hope.”
Although it originally aired from 1987-1995, Full House has become a nostalgic childhood symbol to multiple generations thanks to syndication. But before Netflix revived the show with a 2016 reboot, Dannon reunited a few of the show’s stars in an ad for Oikos, the company’s line of Greek yogurts.
John Stamos is joined by his former cast members Bob Saget and Dave Coulier in this Y&R Vinizius-produced spot. The trio doesn’t explicitly reprise their Full House roles, but the dynamic is undeniably reminiscent of their days on the sitcom.
In 1973, Billie Jean King won a tennis match against male player Bobby Riggs, which was coined “The Battle of the Sexes.” The historic tennis game was the first time a female tennis player was matched against a male.
In and before the late 1950s, men were seen as superior athletes and breadwinners in society. Prior to the tennis match with King, who was only 25, even Riggs said that he could beat a woman at his age of 55.
King’s tennis match win proved Riggs wrong. It also proved that men and women could compete equally on the tennis field and in other sports. On a bigger scale, it further empowered women, who were often stereotyped as wives, homemakers, or secretaries at the time. With King’s win, it became harder to ignore that gender stereotypes were false and that women could win and even lead amongst men.
During the match, King wore an iconic pair of blue Adidas tennis shoes. Years later, to celebrate the 45th anniversary of King’s win, Adidas launched a limited edition line of BJK shoes with the female tennis legend’s face and initials on each pair.
To announce the shoe line, Adidas launched a series of simple commercials showing Billie Jean King spray-painting piles of shoes blue. Here’s an example of one of the ads:
To further promote the line, Adidas also had booths at the U.S. Open tennis match where fans could bring any brand of shoes and have an artist paint them blue with Adidas’ special BJK logo.
According to Adidas, the overall campaign led to a 20% boost in tennis shoe sales. And, now that the campaign is over, people are auctioning off these limited edition shoes on eBay for upwards of $1,000.
Nothing screams nostalgia like old home movies. In this extended holiday ad from British grocery chain Tesco, we watch a family grow and age over the years through the lens of their Christmas home videos. Set to a poignant theme, the ad is intended to stir up fond holiday memories for viewers.
“We wanted to show what a real Christmas is all about — not a perfect, airbrushed one — but the ones we recognize from our own lives,” David Wood, Tesco’s U.K. marketing director, told Adweek. The ad was produced by Wieden + Kennedy, London.
Although Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is no more, this 2013 spot for the web browser earned viral recognition and a Webby Award nomination.
“You might not remember us,” the ad’s narrator begins, “but we met in the ’90s.” The commercial goes on to highlight all things ’90s — fanny packs, Tamagotchi, bowl haircuts — even the Oregon Trail PC game makes an appearance.
Column Five Media, the creative agency behind the ad, set out to create a nostalgia-driven viral ad that would reintroduce Internet Explorer to ’90s kids. “The idea of a brand like Internet Explorer being forward-thinking enough to make such a story-focused, Gen Y-centered commercial was pretty newsworthy,” the agency wrote in a behind-the-scenes blog post. “Focusing that story on ’90s nostalgia, which we knew was popular with Gen Y and not yet fully realized in video form, is what made [the ad] shareworthy.”
Chili’s ads are usually characterized by close-up shots of glistening hamburgers, sizzling bacon, and french fries still glowing with fryer oil. So this 2016 ad produced by Boston-based agency Hill Holliday was a departure from the casual dining chain’s typical go-to formula.
The commercial depicts the Chili’s origin story through a series of retro vignettes. We see the laid-back founders playing ring toss, lounging on the hood of their car, and — of course — flipping classic Chili’s burgers in their first restaurant. The ad taps into traditional Americana — a form of nostalgia for small town American life, middle class values, and neighborhood restaurants where everyone knows your name.
Apple regularly features celebrities in their advertising, but they made a notably nostalgic casting decision for this iPhone 6s spot. Everyone’s favorite sweet-toothed Muppet, Cookie Monster, might have switched to a more balanced diet, but he appears whipping up a batch of his favorite chocolate chip cookies in this ad.
TBWA/Media Arts Lab is the agency behind the ad, and they even released a series of “bloopers” featuring the beloved childhood character.
The nostalgic force is strong in this Target video promoting Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise. As part of a larger campaign to encourage fans to share their Star Wars memories online, Deutsch LA produced this two-minute compilation of Star Wars fans’ home movies.
In the video, young fans dressed as little Princess Leias, Luke Skywalkers, and Han Solos brandish lightsabers and give their best Chewbacca impressions, all while the classic Star Wars theme plays in the background. The result is an endearing campaign that’s sure to resonate with longtime fans and new converts alike.
For their 150th anniversary back in 2012, Bacardi released a series of print and television ads showcasing the brand’s party-starting heritage. The trip down memory lane was intended to give the company a shot of authenticity, reminding consumers that Bacardi has stood the test of time.
The goal according to Leo Premutico, co-founder of WPP agency Johannes Leonardo, the agency behind the ad, was “to depict a moment in time that lives in history” and offer “an eye to what’s next, an exciting future.”
When McDonald’s removed antibiotics and artificial preservatives from their chicken this year, they wanted an ad campaign that not only informed consumers about these changes, but also tapped into nostalgia surrounding their famous nuggets.
“There’s an undeniable level of nostalgia tied to the McDonald’s brand and its food,” Britt Nolan, Leo Burnett USA‘s chief creative officer, told Adweek. “We set out to capture that relationship in a sincere, simple way that today’s parents can relate to and feel good about sharing with their own kids.”
How to Nail Nostalgia
The key to nailing nostalgia is to understand what motivates your audiences, how they were raised, and where their deepest interests lie. To do this, do a little research or develop buyer persona’s that grew up in certain generations to learn what makes them think.
To learn more about building and analyzing your buyer persona, check out this helpful guide. For more great advertising inspiration, here’s a roster of 2019 Clio Gold-winning ads.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in September 2016, but was updated for comprehensiveness and freshness in February 2020.