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4 Brands Making a Nostalgia-Driven Comeback

Rukayyah Robun

Feb 10, 2020

This month, you may have been happy to hear that Nintendo will be adding the old school Super Nintendo games to the new Switch console. For many, thinking back to the “good old days” of disposable cameras, muddy bike rides and Sega Mega-drives may bring a feeling of comfort. It may surface flashbacks, to a time where meeting with friends meant a call in advance to settle the meeting spot. Where there was no need to take a picture of your food when it arrived, and portable devices were not considered addictive. In 2019, brands are taking emotional marketing to the next level, communicating with consumers via their collective memories. 

In the last few years, we have witnessed several retro brands making a nostalgia-driven comeback, going back to their roots to move forward. In doing so, they are creating a highly effective emotional hook – capturing their audience by reminding them of a memory. They use each ad to ask consumers, “what do you associate with this character, clothing or song?”. In 2020, brands will create the biggest buzz from the past.


When Did it All Begin? 

Millennials are the most frequent users of social media, with 90.4% of the generation active online. Growing up during the digital revolution, Millennial consumers have lived in a world both before and after the birth of the internet, social media and technological intelligence. Because of this, nostalgia marketing is most effective when directed to this demographic.

Nostalgia marketing is now used by brands wanting to build the extra element of trust – taking customers back to a time that they felt was ‘theirs’. For example, in 2016, Halifax took Millennial consumers back to their younger years using the Flintstones characters in their TV advertisements. In doing so, they were able to re-engage Millennial consumers with their childhood memories of the show.

Meanwhile, memes that ‘Only 90’s Kids Will Understand’, Pokemon Go and of course the release of Netflix original series Stranger Things has sent the nostalgia marketing trend through the roof. Here are 4 retro brands utilising the trend to make a nostalgia-driven comeback.

Tip: Learn more about millennial cringe: What it is, who's talking about it, and what it tells marketers.


The famous mustard yellow and red graphics are what comes to mind when a lot of us think of Kodak. Their infamous disposable camera captured some of the best memories and a few of the worst shots, that you weren’t aware of until the prints were collected two weeks later. If you wanted photos, you chose Kodak. 

Time went on and they became a little lost in the digital revolution, where smartphones took everyday photography to a new level. But our recent webinar with Kodak’s Chief Marketing Officer Danielle Atkins, explored how the brand is making the comeback of the century. Revelling in their own retro success, the brand is utilising its iconic brand identity and moving into retro clothing. In collaboration with Forever 21. Kodak used a campaign that resembled the quality of a disposable camera, showcasing their new brand image through a familiar lens.


Source: Marketing Week


Since the boom of athleisure, in 2016, and the popularisation of street-wear, sports fashion brands like Champion have seen an incline in revenue. The company, owned by Hanesbrand, is expecting to go beyond their goal of £2 billion in sales, by 2022. In the 90s, Champion was known for being the brand of basketball – appearing on the major team's kits. In 2018, they aligned the brand image with the street-wear trend but used the nostalgia marketing to remind consumers why they loved Champion. Using the vibrant colour of the 80s, branding of the 90s and over-sized fits of streetwear, the brand increased revenue to $1.36 billion in 2018. Now, Champion’s nostalgic image has enabled it to become a high-street brand, appearing in retailers such as Topshop, Urban Outfitters and ASOS. 


The introduction of the sugar tax in 2018 meant maintaining the success of classic Coca-Cola was based on a marketing plan using a new angle. Despite the brand not suffering any major drops in sales, the question still rose – how can classic Coke stay ahead of its competitors? Utilising the brand slogan of ‘Taste the Feeling’, Coca-Cola decided to use a nostalgia-driven strategy to take consumers back in time. 

The brand created a pop-up experience in Shoreditch to celebrate the release of Netflix’s Stranger Things series 3. Coca-Cola took visitors back to 1985 by opening a Hawkings themed arcade, kitted out with all original games. Interestingly, the brand also made the decision to include the ‘New Coke’ business blunder in the series – reminding viewers of the customer backlash in America in 1985. 


Source: Hypebeast


Nostalgia-driven marketing is even tapping into new brands, bringing them back to their original roots before they were known by consumers. Before Netflix was on our smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, they co-existed with rental chain Blockbuster. Their decision to offer a subscription ultimately pushed them ahead of the game and diverted them away from the same fate as Blockbuster endured. 

Netflix has now built its own industry, and competitor platforms such as Amazon Prime, Hulu and Disney+ are creeping up to take the top spot. In order to avoid losing the crown, their rumoured next move is to utilise the nostalgia marketing trend and make an offline u-turn, collaborating with cinema chains to showcase original films. A collaboration with a cinema chain would transform the Netflix brand image, making it an entertainment giant and bring back those nostalgic trips to the movies. 

Are Brands Going Backwards to Move Forward?

In 2019, the resurfacing of the most-loved retro products/styles can be gold dust –  but only when done strategically. For retro brands, the key is consistency – creating content that doesn’t need an explanation and activates an emotion instantly. Alternatively, for new brands the use of ‘Newstalgia’ can also be an effective tool. Younger brands should stick within their brand purpose and not sway away simply for the purposes of nostalgia marketing. Bring together old and new like Fujifilm achieved with the Instax Polaroid camera. The brand used the concept of Polaroid photography with a slick design and trending pastel colours, creating a Polaroid camera for the 21st century. 

Nostalgia marketing has become a highly effective marketing tool, one that taps into consumer emotions to trigger a positive memory. In doing so, it creates a level of comfort between the viewer and the brand, as the viewer now associates that brand with a positive memory. Using nostalgia to engage your audience can be a highly effective tool – but only if it's authentic.