How to Leverage Nostalgia-Based Marketing in a Coronavirus World

Keeping brand identity at the front

Bill Murray wears a bike helmet and rides a bike with a helmet-wearing groundhog in the basket
Jeep brought back Bill Murray's character from Groundhog Day for the Super Bowl. Jeep
Headshot of Collette Eccleston

Nostalgia marketing is all the rage, and it will continue to be a popular approach for years to come—especially as the world wrestles with the coronavirus pandemic. Why? Nostalgia takes us back to the past. It’s familiar and certain, which enables it to fulfill a core psychological need for security.

Although security in the sense of physical health is of the utmost importance right now, we can’t overlook the importance of the comfort people take in reliving positive memories in a world that’s quite unstable. Nostalgia can be an incredibly useful vehicle for communicating these emotions.

And brands are harnessing it right now. Hotels across the country are channeling nostalgia in their marketing efforts by tapping into consumers’ desire to travel safely. They’re creating campaigns that draw on the nostalgia of travel 50 years ago, evoking the nostalgia of family road trips and drives to the beach, the mountains, or National Parks. In a moment when the present feels uncertain, nostalgia for the past feels solid and steady.

Nostalgia with a purpose

Nostalgia can be a great tool for sparking conversations among consumers. If it isn’t used in the right way, however, it can distract the audience from the true purpose of your marketing campaign.

For example, on Super Bowl Sunday, the internet was ablaze with posts about Bill Murray and “Groundhog Day,” but how many people actually considered buying a Jeep after seeing the ad? How many people even noticed that they were watching a Jeep commercial?

When using nostalgia in a marketing campaign, a brand needs to keep its identity and messaging front and center at all times. While that brand might have good intentions when it features a movie character or beloved band in its advertising, the message can be overshadowed by the cameo if the overall campaign doesn’t tie back to its product and messaging.

Celebrities and pop culture references might get attention, but they won’t necessarily sell products or build brand awareness. If there isn’t a clear association between the two, the alignment of the message will be off. And misaligned messages don’t reek of authenticity, which is at the heart of what every consumer seeks.

A link to the past

By putting us back in the past, nostalgic ads can evoke positive emotions. A Domino’s ad released this year to promote its new GPS delivery tracker features the main character recreating the iconic dance scene from “Risky Business.” It’s fun, upbeat and memorable, but it also connects the brand to the nostalgic scene seamlessly.

This is what nostalgia-driven marketing should look like, especially as the U.S. economy recovers from the Covid-19 crisis and consumers continue to work to rebuild their lives. It will take time for consumers to regain confidence and spending power. Once they do, they will gravitate toward brands that evoke feelings of familiarity—not those that hired celebrities in an effort to go viral.

After coronavirus, it will be more critical than ever for marketers to paint a clear connection between their brand identity and their use of nostalgia. Whether it’s through songs, movie references or heartfelt storylines, companies should create advertisements that help consumers reconstruct positive memories and emotions—while conveying exactly how their products or services can meet consumer needs and improve their lives.


Don't miss the Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit and Upfronts, a live virtual experience Nov. 16-19. Gain insights from leading sports figures on how they navigated a year of upsets and transformation and what's in store for the coming year. Register


Collette Eccleston is svp of the Pragmatic Brain Science Institute at LRW.
{"taxonomy":"","sortby":"","label":"","shouldShow":""}