Nostalgia Can Be A Powerful Tool – EP16

Nostalgia can be a double-edged sword when it comes to its ability to entice, captivate, and acquire interested consumers to relive history. In this podcast episode, DeAnn led the discussion on how brands can use nostalgia to their advantage and what type of signals can lead to failures.

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Introduction – What Is Nostalgia?

Nostalgia’s definition is the “excessively sentimental yearning for a return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition”.

Dr. Clay Routledge, Social Psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University, stated that nostalgia “increases positive mood, self-esteem, feelings of social connectedness, optimism about the future, and perceptions of meaning in life. Furthermore, nostalgia motivates people to focus on cultivating meaningful relationships and pursue important life goals. In addition, as people get older, nostalgia makes them feel youthful and energetic. Nostalgia also reduces existential fears about death.”

There are powerful opportunities for brands to positively engage existing and new customers through nostalgia if executed properly. However, the reverse can also be true as brands can suffer from disappointment and negative sentiments if the nostalgia comes off as a gimmick and lacks value.


Nostalgia As A Marketing Tool

Hi, this is Retail Mashup. I’m Larry. I’m DeAnn. Retail Mashup, the podcast, is about showcasing retail customer experiences. We are here to talk about some of the successes and challenges when it comes to bringing the best experience for consumers and for brands. So today, DeAnn, what do you wanna talk about?

I am thinking, I wanna talk about nostalgia. I’m seeing a lot of brands reach back into the seventies, eighties, and nineties and bring back brands or products that we used to love, companies that we used to love, and trying to leverage that love into a benefit for them today. And I see it done well and I see it done not so well.

Case Study: Blockbuster – The Hype Is Real

We wrote a little bit about Blockbuster in an earlier post. So I’d love to hear more about the topic and get your thoughts. You know, Blockbuster’s an interesting case because It has such a rabbit following, I mean VHS tapes you get in your car, you drive to a store, you sign out of VHS tapes drive and you watch the movie and you bring it back.

My gosh, those days are gone. Netflix changed the game when they started mailing CDs to people and letting them mail them back. And now, of course, we’re all streaming. So going to a place seems like a foreign concept for something like a movie, and yet there are rabbit fans of the blockbuster name.

It has still talked about, recognized even by Gen Z their in twenties, and have never been near a blockbuster store. And they still know what the brand is and what it sold. Logically you would think it would be easy to bring that back in some fashion. And yet no one has really done that yet. Recently their website, there’s a website, a blockbuster dot.

The site has mysteriously reactivated, and everyone is sort of talking about it on the internet. What are they gonna do? What are they gonna do? Oh my God. It’s gonna be very interesting to see how that’s handled and whether it’s using the name for good or for evil. I can’t wait to see.

The Nostalgia Game With Products Over Branding

Are there other brands that tried to use this particular tactic and failed? Quite a few. Yes. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between having it work and having it not work. In general, it’s easier to do for a thing than for an idea. So by that I mean if you want to bring back a product, for example, it’s much easier to kind of bring sweater vests or bell-bottom pants to create a little bit of a buzz. It’s the latest thing and it makes some money, then you retire it and move on to the next thing.

Nostalgia Can Be A Powerful Tool – Back in 2019, McDonald’s brought back iconic toys to celebrate its Happy Meals’ 40th anniversary. The fast food chain routinely brings back older products (e.g. McRib) to entice customers through nostalgia.

Case Studies: Toys R Us/Radio Shack – Muted Response

It’s much harder to do that for a brand name. So Blockbuster or Toys R Us. You think about Toys R Us. Right now it’s a shop inside of Macy’s. And it’s okay. But it’s certainly not getting the attention and loyalty and love that the original Toys R stores used to get.

Toys R Us partners with Macy’s as part of its nostalgia efforts to win back customers in the United States. The question is whether consumers know about this partnership and associate the toy brand with the department store.

It’s not creating the same experience. And that’s really what it comes down to if you wanna revive a company or brand name You have to give it an update and you have to bring it into this century, and you have to give it the attributes that shoppers today want.

By that I mean I think Radio Shack, would you still call it Radio Shack? Do we even know what a radio is anymore and the things that they used to sell? I mean, how would you position that for an era of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and digital streaming? It would be very hard to do it successfully without completely ablating all the things that made Radio Shack in its day.

The challenge of what Toys R Us is doing right now is that they’re not updated. You can’t take the original brand and just plop it down today without having a social media presence, an e-commerce presence, a website, and an influencer strategy. Without having stores that offer a broader range of products and maybe have Daycare centers inside them.

With all the things that modern brands do to appeal to customers, customers have come back. Doing all of that, do you then water down the Toys R Us experience? That’s really a question I’m exploring right now.

Case Study: Zellers – New Kid On The Block

I can see that too in Canada, where Hudson’s Bay Company recently bought back Zellers, the brand that went away many years ago.

Certainly, there is the ambition to expand the brand to many stores or stores within the store concept. But just like what you said, people have specific expectations. Some of them may still have the same feeling of the brand wanting to have the same feel, perhaps even smell of what they remembered.

If the new concept is not the same or meets the same expectation, then they would feel almost betrayed that a good brand, at least in their minds is tarnished. Many retailers have to think about, planned out the customer experience and fully engaged before and during, and after, and ask for feedback on how they feel about the brand and what else can they do If it’s a brand that is being brought back.

There are definitely potential opportunities to seize on something old, something classic and vintage. That could be cool. We have seen this on Stranger Things the Netflix show. But then, but then if it’s not executed well then it could be a big failure.

Netflix’s Stranger Things used Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill as a plot tool. The nostalgia fueled the track to zoom to the top 3 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

Exactly. I remember when I was a kid I grew up in Canada, so I shopped at Zeller’s and it was a wonderland because they had all these broad range of products. They were essentially the target of Canadians that the US has now. And so you could get good quality products, reasonable prices of a broad range kind of interesting things. Nowadays, you can get all of that online and probably for less.

Will Zellers 2.0 be a success within the Hudson’s Bay Company portfolio?

It wasn’t a small distilled thing that you can plop in the middle of a store and say, ah, there’s Zellers. Remember? No. That is not what Zellers was.

Case Study: Tower Records – Playing Into The Trend

On the flip side of that though, by reinventing, you really can have a boost from nostalgia, cuz I don’t know if you remember Tower Records. It was huge in the States and they went bankrupt.

Well, vinyl is resurged and so people are kind of remembering Tower Records more and more. But You can’t bring it back in the same format that it was before because it had its day and it’s too much change to update it for today’s music streaming services. And is the experience that it was really relevant today?

Probably not, but it has been reinvented as an entertainment venue. Well, there is honoring the tradition and memory of the brand. And using it as a platform for live entertainment, I think is a really interesting way to leverage nostalgia in a way that honors the past but fits into the future.

That sounds amazing. Building a brand and what it stands for and who you are, your identity, and what types of products and services you are creating or curating. I think that’s almost an extension of that discussion that we’ve been talking about for a little bit in Retail Mashup, and I look forward to more discussion about that in the future.

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* We made some modifications to the transcript to improve understandability and flow

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