I was driving in my car, listening to the ‘90s Pop station on Pandora when suddenly I heard a familiar voice yell, “EVERYBODY DANCE NOW,” followed by the catchy beat of C + C Music Factory’s masterpiece, ‘Gonna Make You Sweat.’

In that instant, I was no longer a grown woman on her way to do her weekly grocery shopping. I was a little girl in her daddy’s living room dancing her heart out. My arms were flailing, my face was grinning and my dad was cheering. Everything was perfect and I had no worries.

You probably have triggers like that too. It’s the smell that immediately takes you to Grandma’s house. It’s the rock anthem that takes you to high school in the back seat of a muscle car. It’s nostalgia, and it is incredibly powerful.

The smallest stimulation can transport us and fill us with joy. It can reconnect us with lost loved ones, warm our hearts, and plant smiles on our faces. Nostalgia is raw emotion, so it’s no wonder we see it in marketing so often.

Where We See It

Brands from all sorts of industries are using nostalgia to connect with audiences. One great example is RadioShack’s 2014 Super Bowl commercial. Anyone who remembers the ‘80s with even an inkling of fondness would smile at this commercial. With Hulk Hogan making an appearance, how could you not?

More great examples include Autotrader.com’s funny Dukes of Hazard spot, the Reading Rainbow’s new Kickstarter campaign, and Burger King bringing back the chicken fries. There’s no doubt brands have caught up to the age of #ThrowbackThursday and #FlashbackFriday.

Warm, Fuzzy Feelings

In the 17th century, Swiss doctors thought that nostalgia was a mental disorder caused by being around too many animals. Luckily, science has come a long way since then. We can be sure experiencing nostalgia is not a mental disorder, but rather a common occurrence that causes an array of positive emotions.

Recent research has shown that we tend to have look back fondly on events involving people we care for and/or were meaningful to us on a personal level. This is why our minds often look back on graduations, weddings and birthdays with such affection. However, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what triggers this fond feeling.

But researchers have found one potential trigger: loneliness. Most commonly, people are susceptible to nostalgia when they are experiencing feelings of isolation. So why would any brand want to be associated with nostalgia if it’s triggered by negativity?

Although unhappy feelings cause nostalgia, they are not the end result. When a lonely person is triggered by something that makes them feel nostalgic, they can experience increased mood, improved self-esteem, less stress, and an optimistic viewpoint. The brand that caused the nostalgia is then credited, either consciously or subconsciously, with turning that person’s frown upside down.

Social Sharing Supremacy

How many times have you seen a BuzzFeed article with a title like, “Only ‘90s Kids Will Get This” come up on your Facebook? Too many, right? That’s because people love sharing nostalgic posts.

In much the same way as brands want to be associated with positive emotions, people want to be known as the person who makes others feel happy. After all, when we post on social media, we are really just marketing ourselves.

This type of post also appeals to the need to belong. It’s a basic human desire to belong to a group. We want to share our experiences and feelings with like-minded people. What better way to facilitate that connection than to ask an entire generation, “Remember that time when that very cool thing happened to all of us? Wasn’t that awesome?” That’s what you’re doing when your brand goes retro in your marketing.


Whether it’s a crazy pop song or the smell of fresh baked cookies, there is something that can send your mind to a simpler time. One way to effectively market your brand is to find what takes your audience back and give it to them. If you have any questions about marketing and branding, give Duncan/Day a call. You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more helpful hints!