The Success of Nostalgia Marketing


The presence of nostalgia can be seen within various aspects in everyday life, from television and movies (Cui, 2015) to advertisements and retro products (Shields & Johnson, 2016). The use of nostalgia in advertising has been met with a largely positive response because of its ability to bridge consumers to their happier past lives, thus yielding a sense of comfort and security (Shields & Johnson, 2016). According to Routledge, Wildschut, Sedikides, Juhl, & Arndt (2012), research shows that nostalgia for the past presents a positive impact on their perception in relation to themselves and others.

However, are there any aspects within nostalgia that can have a negative impact when it comes to marketing? Thus, is the focus of the examination, specifically, Coca Cola, a large company in the food industry that has consistently utilized nostalgic or "throwback" elements in their products.

Brief History of Coca Cola

The presence of Coca Cola branded products are widespread throughout the globe. Recorded in 2013, the $78 billion dollar company had sales in over 200 countries around the world, serving a total of 1.

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8 billion beverages each day (Elmore, 2013). While most people consider the brand Coca Cola and its products as unhealthy and harmful in today's society, it was quite the opposite when it first emerged onto the scene. The brand Coca Cola, launched in the 1880s was seen as not only a American beverage, but also as a political icon (Carroll, 2014). When George W. Bush renounced his delusions about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, it fueled the Amercian's hatred and hunger for war and confrontation; it was worth fighting for (Boughn, 2010).

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The same can be said about a bottle of Coca Cola. It embodied the "idea of democracy (cheap coke for everyone)" (Boughn, 2010) and that people are willing to fight for cheap Coca Cola.

Creating Consumer Brand Loyalty Through Nostalgia

According to Aurélie Kessous Elyette Roux Jean‐Louis Chandon (2015), the nostalgic retro trend has become an international phenomenon and is affecting the entire marketing mix. This ties directly to the purpose of nostalgia, to facilitate "continuity between past and present selves" (Sedikides, Wildschut, Gaetner, Routledge, and Arndt, 2008p.306) where marketers can utilize this by triggering a consumer's happy emotions from their past within a product or advertisement, bridging together previous cheerful memories with the present. While many companies are attempting to use nostalgic advertising to increase sales, it is important to note that certain industries are not as capable of using nostalgia marketing compared to others. For companies in the new technology industry (virtual reality, etc), it is difficult to create a positive connection to the past for consumers due to the product itself not having its own retro history. However, it is not an obstacle for food brands such as Coca Cola. According to Shields, A. B., & Johnson, J. W. (2016), in order for companies to produce any nostalgic brand connection, a bridge between fond memories and the brand in the past must exist. This ties closely to Coca- Cola, as it is brand referred to in the past as the embodiment of the "idea of democracy" and a positive icon for decades (Boughn, 2010). Whenever the brand is labelled as a health hazard and surrounded by negativity, Coca-Cola can utilize nostalgia marketing to remind consumers about the positives in the past. Hence, the retro looking glass bottles and dull looking posters on billboards. This is proven in a study conducted by Shields and Johnson (2016), where participants were exposed to a variety of brands they had previously encountered in their childhoods; because of the fond memories correlated with their "non-recent lived past", participants were recorded to have an emotional and more importantly positive connection with the associated brand (p.361). This gives Coca-Cola a major advantage when it comes to advertising since it does not need to solely rely on the products they produce; they have the flexibility to change their image without changing their product at all. According to Jacodson in the center for science in the public interest (2016), Coca Cola is often marketed in forms of nostalgic fin de siècle beach scenes on big billboards at Walt Disneyland land, which sells over 75 million Cokes each year, despite everyone knowing the health risks of the surgery drink.

The Element of Age in Nostalgia Marketing

According to Cui (2015), nostalgia marketing relies on the brand being able to provide the common experience reminiscent to the common memories of consumers. However, Cui examined that the experiences that companies provide can differ due to time and regional characteristics. Most notably, the differences of age (between "Experienced old people"(pg.127) and "Young people"(pg.128)) and their change in purchasing intentions when exposed to the same nostalgic elements. For "Experienced old people"(Cui, 2015, pg.127), nostalgic elements such as traditional items, "old streets, old folks and other scenes" (Cui, 2015, pg.127) are nostalgia triggers that can successfully stimulate and fulfill the purpose of nostalgia marketing, increasing purchasing intentions. However, if "Young People" or children who does not have fond memories and positive experiences with retro products, it is not an effective stimulant and does not fulfill the purpose of nostalgia marketing. This calls for the change in stimulant. Rather than having "old streets, old folks and other scenes" (Cui, 2015, pg.127), the companies must adapt and change its nostalgia trigger to cater towards the young generation, Santa Claus. During December, Coca-Cola often uses images of Santa Claus to promote Coke sales, whose primary appeal is to the children under the age of 12, which is proven to be very effective (Jacobson, 2015). The magic of Santa lies in his character as a cheerful old man who brings nothing but happiness and fond memories for children every christmas. Thus, although the target market for Coca Cola during christmas is rather young, Santa Claus, according to Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Arndt, J., & Routledge, C. (2008) definition of an effective nostalgic stimuli (creating positive and happy emotions within consumers when exposed to the right nostalgic trigger), the character Santa is a nostalgic element for "young people"(Cui, 2015, pg. 128) and children. Thus, if businesses were to address the differences between the different age groups to effectively fulfill the purpose of nostalgia marketing, no negative feelings associated with nostalgia are produced.

Gender in Nostalgia Marketing

According to Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Routledge, C., Arndt, J., Hepper, E. G., & Zhou, X. (2015), elderly females are more nostalgia prone and critical of their own past in contrast to elderly males. This is due to how society frames of women's beauty standards and youngfulness which creates a mirror that reflects their old aging self and often negative attitudes that associates with nostalgia (Wilcox, 1997). Indeed, the idea of self-continuity results in harsher judging of women in society compared to men when it comes to body type and absence of wrinkles (Bartky, 1990). Thus, the notion of gender equality when it comes to the effectiveness of nostalgia is a fallacy, and that elderly women are more likely to ignore or attempt to avoid self-continuity with their past and nostalgia (Wilcox, 1997). In a study conducted by Kim and Yim (2018), where participants are separated based on differences in age and gender, was examined to see how each would respond differently to the effect of nostalgia with a focus on perceived youthfulness. It was found that the only group observed to have experienced positive attitudes that bridged the self in the past to the self in the present are the older adult males (Kim & Yim, 2018). In contrast, when the group of older adult women were exposed with nostalgia, the presence of old age and loss of youngfulness resulted in a negative attitude towards nostalgia (Kim & Yim, 2018). Thus, the element of gender in nostalgia marketing walks on a thin thread and proves to be more difficult for brands to attempt to cater their products towards the middle aged or older female gender; negative feelings are generated no matter the adjustment of businesses.

Conclusion and Future Directions

Although nostalgia marketing is widely used in today's economy and is one of the most effective advertising methods in certain industries, there are many areas that have yet to be explored and expanded upon research. One could attempt to narrow down the possibility of having a nostalgic element that ignores all differences in people.. For example, is it possible to create a new method of nostalgia marketing that is effective across all ages and genders, and how that can affect consumer brand loyalty in the long run? If so, paired with its already established power to change a buyer's attitude towards a brand can this new use of nostalgia marketing alter the frequency, quantity, or timing of all consumer's buying patterns? Another could also attempt to borden the field of nostalgia marketing with future research by looking into the nostalgic stimulants of the female gender. For example, is there a particular stimulus that is just enough to trigger a woman's nostalgic memories to produce a purchasing incentive, but not to overwhelm the individual with the loss of youthfulness and negative feelings associated with nostalgia? The answers to these questions, if successful, can make nostalgia marketing the most effective marketing strategy, producing certain purchasing incentives that other methods will not be able to.

Nostalgia marketing is becoming more mainstream as businesses are attempting to maximize their advertising effectiveness when generating consumer brand loyalty. However, as research bordens, the image of positivity surrounding nostalgia marketing is starting to unravel and showing missed areas of research in previous studies.


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Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Success of Nostalgia Marketing. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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