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April 7, 2021

Will Nostalgia Be the Biggest Marketing Trend of 2021?

by Marilyn Wilkinson

Remember the good old times when….? There’s no better time to relive happy memories than when you’re stuck at home during lockdown – and marketers know it. Historically, the nostalgia marketing strategy has been a popular tactic during hard times. Will the pandemic lead to a flurry of sentimental ads? It seems Coca-Cola, Pizza Hut and Burger King have already embraced this not-so-new trend in their latest campaigns.

What’s the Psychology Behind the Nostalgia Marketing Strategy?

Nostalgia is like comfort food. It transports us back to a simpler, happier place and gives us comfort and stability – things we all long for in times of uncertainty.

It has now been over a year since the first lockdown that put our lives on hold and turned everything upside down. Since then, masks, distance learning and working from home have become the new normal and this is having a knock-on effect on the types of content people are consuming.

A recent study exploring the effects of COVID-19 on entertainment choices found that more than half of consumers are finding comfort in old TV shows, films and songs from their youth. Pokémon cards are skyrocketing in value and stars of 2000s TV shows like High School Musical have been a huge hit on Tiktok.

Krystine Batcho, a psychology professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, told National Geographic, “Generally, people find comfort in nostalgia during times of loss, anxiety, isolation, or uncertainty.”

In these challenging times, brands can offer comfort with familiar, sentimental content. Let’s take a look at how Coca Cola, Pizza Hut and Burger King are using nostalgia to engage with their customers on an emotional level.

Brands That Use Nostalgia Marketing

Coca-Cola ‘Unbelievable Double Take’

In March, Coca-Cola launched a new omnichannel campaign to promote its cherry, vanilla, cherry vanilla and orange vanilla flavored beverages.

As part of the hugely-popular NCAA basketball tournament March Madness, which was canceled last year due to the Coronavirus, Coca Cola created a series of ads featuring the most iconic moments in the tournament’s history.

The brand used 3D technology to digitally insert images of Coca-Cola flavors into the hands of past players, coaches, mascots and fans during memorable sports moments, such as North Carolina State's infamous victory over Houston in 1983.

By invoking nostalgia about iconic sports victories, Coke manages to tap into sports fans’ sentimentality. The use of rendering technology is also a clever way to circumvent restrictions on live filming during the pandemic.

Pizza Hut 'Newstalgia'

Remember PAC-MAN? Chances are, you do, which is why Pizza Hut is centering their 'Newstalgia' campaign around it.

In a modern twist, Pizza Hut created a limited-edition PAC-MAN pizza box featuring an augmented reality game where people could win a custom PAC-MAN game cabinet. The brand encouraged customers to order a large pizza, scan the QR code on the box, play PAC-MAN and share their score on Twitter using the hashtags #PizzaHutARcade #Sweepstakes.

Actor and comedian Craig Robinson is the face of the campaign. The Super Bowl commercial showed him playing a retro PAC-MAN game while enjoying a $10 Tastemaker™ pizza– just like in the old days dining in at Pizza Hut.

"Everyone has their own special Pizza Hut memory - from being a BOOK IT! kid or grabbing post-game pizza with your little league buddies," said Craig. "Growing up in the 80s, mine was going into Pizza Hut and devouring those little PAC-MAN dots just like I did my pizza. Those arcade games in the restaurant - there was nothing better as a kid."

Playing on nostalgia, the brand has been promoting the campaign heavily on social media, writing on one Instagram post, “#tbt to when it wasn’t rude to play games at the table”. Their customers seem to be loving the PAC-MAN throwback, with one enthusiastic user even commenting, “My favorite game as a kid!”

Why is the campaign so popular? Well, it puts a modern twist on all the things their customers know and love about the brand, like vintage arcade games, red cups and Tiffany-style lamps and of course, iconic Pizza Hut pizzas.

The uplifting message is designed to let customers relive childhood memories from the safety of their home. And the PAC-MAN game and TV ad are just the beginning. Craig will remain the face of the brand for the rest of the year, while Pizza Hut plans to bring back iconic pizzas and tap into entertainment and pop culture in new and unexpected ways.

Burger King Rebrand

Burger King's first rebrand in 20 years happens to resemble the logo used by the brand in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Coincidence? It would seem the retro look and feel is designed to take customers back to happier times.

Agency creative director Lisa Smith said, "We explored a lot of different design territories, but kept coming back to the brand's original iconic logo from 1969 and 1994 when Burger King looked at its best.”

It’s more than just a new logo. The brand’s new visual identity is centered around a color palette based on iconic Burger King menu items - burger, salad and fries - and looks distinctly old school.

Interestingly, the brand opted for a custom serif typeface called “Flame”. The fun and expressive font is an unusual choice, as brands today tend to opt for simple, non-serif fonts which are modern, but are often criticized for being boring and all looking the same.

The comprehensive rebrand includes packaging, restaurant merchandise, menu boards, uniforms, restaurant signage and décor and is being rolled out in Burger King restaurants worldwide right now. While it might be a while until you can experience them in person, you can also find Burger King’s fun vintage style on their social media channels and website.

So, Will You Use a Nostalgia Marketing Strategy in 2021?

Consumers are craving familiarity in these uncertain times. Brands can help fill this need with uplifting and sentimental content. Whether it’s a flash in the pan or a marketing trend for the whole year depends largely on if and when we get back to “normal”. Will your brand be incorporating nostalgia into its marketing strategy this year? We would love to hear about it!

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