The power of nostalgia in recessionary times – by Fitting Room’s Charlotte Mair

Brands and celebrities know the power of nostalgia and simplicity when times are hard, but those pursuing this as a strategy need to make sure they stay culturally relevant

Charlotte Mair Fitting Room

We’re living in a time of uncertainty as we adapt as a post-pandemic society. After communicators and marketers had adjusted their cultural lens to include a more dominant WFH culture, new fast-growth channels like TikTok and the Great Resignation, it seems a recession is incoming, which flips the switch again.

This recession is going to look slightly different to the last one in 2008. For starters, mindsets adapted in the pandemic; at the peak of lockdown one, Go Daddy reported 20% of people it surveyed saw lockdown as an opportunity to start a business. Social media is now one of the largest forms of communications globally and GenZ are showing the world how to build six and seven businesses without needing more than their phones, while the role of digital has completely evolved.

Financial crisis and uncertainty are hard for everyone, but they can offer opportunities, as some of the world’s most famous brands can attest:

  • Disney was founded in 1929, right as the four-year Great Depression was beginning. In 2019 its revenue was $69.9bn.
  • HP was founded in 1939, off the back of the 1937-38 recession where the GDP decline nearly reached 19%. In 2019 its revenue was $58.8bn.
  • Microsoft was founded in 1975 following the 1973 oil crisis, coupled with a stock market crash that led to a 16-month recession where the GDP took its worst hit in nearly 20 years. In 2019 its revenue was $125.8bn.
  • Netflix was founded in 1997 in the years leading up to the dotcom bubble. The company nearly succumbed to the economic hardship of 2000 when it put itself up for sale for $50m, an offer rejected by Blockbuster. In 2019 its revenue was $20.15bn.
  • Airbnb was founded in 2008 during the financial crash; in 2009 it received funding from top tier Venture Capitalists. In 2019 its revenue was $38bn.

One way for brands to navigate through uncertainty is to leverage the sentimental power of nostalgia. Research shows that consumers part with their money more quickly when it comes to nostalgia; ultimately it plays a quick fix to happiness and internal warmth. Nostalgia for brands offers them an opportunity to humanise themselves, and this paired with the reach of social media means there is opportunity to see them retain as well as acquire new customers.

In the past few months, we’ve seen:

  • LimeWire make its comeback as an NFT site.

  • Travis Scott recreate the opening scene from Richie Rich to launch his new Nike Jordans range

  • The term “Barbiecore” coined from the making of Barbie: The Movie

  • Top Gun remake saw record opening weekend sales

  • Hip-hop legacy artists led the Super Bowl Halftime Show

  • Kate Bush reclaim the number one spot thanks to the retro Stranger Things.

Despite all the technology and connectivity, brands and celebrities alike know the power of nostalgia and simplicity when times are hard.

There are challenges with adapting a nostalgic strategy. While people want to feel connected to a brand, they also want that brand to be culturally relevant, as that’s where they are driving their personal social brand equity now.

From a societal lens, loneliness and anxiety are at an all-time high. We actually now have a Loneliness Awareness Week. Nostalgia allows brands that have been a driving force in our supposed high-speed connectivity to turn up and create a different and new conversation for their consumers. They can use this as a time to adopt their CSR policies to encourage people to disconnect online and connect in real life.

While we may go back to nostalgia to weather elements of a financial storm, growing issues surrounding mental health, the tech downturn and what feels like a rolling culture war also give brands the chance to widen their customer base and demonstrate greater ROI.

To enhance a nostalgic strategy further, brands and businesses should start to look at tapping into their customers through value graphics. Value graphics allow brands to understand their consumers more by establishing a set of beliefs that they have. This isn’t driven by stereotypical demographics such as age, disposable income and location; it’s more about their values and belief systems. This funnel looks different because it allows you to look at cultural impact like “pop culture” more broadly than just thinking millennials lived through it and therefore love it.

My student sister was just as aware of the significance of this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show as our mum; they just consumed it through different channels. My sister, in the moment, stayed up late to watch it live and take in all the social chatter of the show, while my mum, when I called her the next day to say “holy sh*t what a show”, then proceeded to watch it back on YouTube.

The most iconic and loved moments from times gone by resonate with 18-year-olds through to those 60-plus – it’s just the packaging and distribution that vary.

If you’re going to run with nostalgia, make sure culture and relevancy are running next to it.

Charlotte Mair is the founder and managing director of The Fitting Room

Source: Campaign UK