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Written by
Mel Hennigar

Mel Hennigar

Recently I was invited to give a presentation to the PR class at the Nova Scotia Community college on the different aspects of blogging—from personal blogs as a way to practice your craft, to professional blogs to grow your profile, to blogs as an integral part of a solid content strategy.

One of the hardest parts of blogging is answering the question: “What should I write about?”. To help answer this question, NATIONAL Atlantic holds a weekly editorial team meeting where we brainstorm content for our social channels, for blog posts, and for stories and opportunities for our clients. We also hold these meetings with a lot of our clients as part of our collaborative process.

So—in the spirit of collaboration and brainstorming—after the formal part of presentation I hosted a newsroom editorial session where we brainstormed some potential topics for a post for the NATIONAL blog. The deal was that we would collaborate to come up with a topic, I would write the words and give them credit for their help and input. Here it goes!

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, it was pretty hard to escape the fact that Super Bowl 52 just happened. But for non-sports fans like me, the first Sunday in February is less about who hit a perfect slam dunk (I’m being facetious), and more about the ads. And the snacks. But mostly the ads.

And this year did not disappoint—from Tide hitting it out of the park, to Hyundai fumbling, to RAM’s red-card worthy blunder there’s lots to talk about. But one thing that really struck me was how some of the best and most talked about ads weren’t really that new, but rather relied fairly heavily on the old.

Nostalgia is not a new trick in our marketing toolbox. And we know that trends are cyclical, so what is it about the recent uptick in nostalgia-based marketing that has been particularly effective?


The nostalgia found in some of this year’s most successful Super Bowl ads was the kind of stuff that millennial dreams are made of. Morgan Freeman lip-synching to Missy Elliott? Be still my 90s heart. Britney and Cindy still being fierce 20+ years later? Yes please.

And speaking of Tide, using David Harbour—lovable good-guy police chief Jim Hopper from the ultimate millennial trip down memory lane Stranger Things—was also leaning hard on the nostalgia factor.

By definition, nostalgia is a wistful or sentimental yearning to return to some past period or a simpler time. And given our current cultural climate, who wouldn’t be down for a little bit of escapism to a time when things didn’t seem so complicated and frankly, scary.

For marketers, playing on that sense of nostalgia is also playing on something deeper—your emotions. Memory holds deep emotional connections, and by reminding us of these fond memories, marketers are actually reaching consumers on an emotional level. Which—as we know through research—makes people more likely to make a purchase.

But sometimes, when not treated properly, nostalgia can also go horribly wrong. A prime example of this can be seen in the ultra-tone deaf ad that was released by RAM. Audio of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talking about the power of service is used over a series of images of people helping people. It’s all tied together with the phrase ‘Built to Serve’ as a super on screen along with the Ram logo. The ad drew heavy criticism (and with good reason) and stands as a reminder that nostalgia—like anything—should be handled with extreme care.

The prevalence of nostalgia marketing isn’t just limited to the recent flurry of Super Bowl ads either. We’ve seen it in product releases like Nintendo’s Classic Edition and in the sweeping success of Pokémon Go, in pop culture with shows like Stranger Things and reboots of shows like Murphy Brown and Will & Grace, and in fashion through the resurgence of mom jeans, chokers, and even Club Monaco’s iconic 90s logo tees, which this author may or may not currently be the proud new owner of… But only after missing the first two reissue runs and having to settle for what was left. Because clearly I’m not the only one looking to wear their 90s nostalgia on their chest.

Nostalgia marketing isn’t anything new. And as with all trends, everything old tends to be new again sooner or later, so it only stands to reason that now is the time for 90s nostalgia to have its moment. And I, for one, am here for it.

——— Mel Hennigar is a former Senior Creative Strategist at NATIONAL Public Relations