The Business of Nostalgia

Maybe you’ve seen it in a Buzzfeed article remiscing about trends from the early 2000s. Maybe you’ve been reminded of it by a recommended TV series on Netflix you watched years ago. Maybe it manifested itself in an old song playing on the radio that reminded you of your teenage years. Nostalgia serves as a reminder to us of the past, whether it b

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e of music, trends, fashion, or just experiences had.

Miriam Webster defines “nostalgia” as:

  1. the state of being homesick: homesickness;
  2. a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also: something that evokes nostalgia.

For this post, I’m going to focus on the second definition given—that of a “wistful or excessively sentimental yearning.” There is an apparent interest in nostalgia present in social media: #ThrowbackThursday is a thing, articles showcasing Nineties trends become viral on Facebook, and many more nostalgia vehicles exist and are created to remind you of the past. And this isn’t lost on investors. It’s because of this we have seen so many remakes and reboots of old movies, TV shows, and other forms of media. Corporations are and have attempting to channel a feeling into a profitable enterprise. But is the business of nostalgia actually profitable?


Some of the recent spate of nostalgia-driven ventures include reboots of old TV shows that self-declared kids remember as “oldies” but goodies. Shows like Full House, Boy Meets World, the X Files, The Magic School Bus, and others are being rebooted in response to the trends in nostalgia. In a Vogue article titled “What Is Behind the Surge of ’90s TV reboots?”, Sarah Mower writes:

Think about it: We all enjoy re-watching films we idolized as when we were just kids, even if they no longer hold up as well as they once did… It’s human nature to look at the past through rose-tinted glasses, and we apply that romanticized memory to our dearly departed TV series.

Businesses are aware of the effect of nostalgia and how it affects sales. An article in the Atlantic by Megan Garber disclosed how Spotify takes into account birth year when it streams music in order to target music from a user’s younger years.

Nostalgia marketing is apparently a thing, and apparently according to this Forbes article,

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it works particularly well among millenials. This is probably due to the fact that millenials, many of whom are inundated with student loan debt, look back on their childhood as a carefree time without the burdens of adulting that they are overwhelmed by now. Combine that with the overabundance of information on the Internet, and you get a generation of people going through quarter-life crises.

A Digiday article explains this:

Vladimir Vukicevic, co-founder and CTO of RocketHub, demonstrated in a rather wonky blog post that products based on nostalgia tend to depreciate slower over time. (Vukicevic only looked at tech products for his research.) And while marketers have used nostalgia as a tool for years, consensus is that millennials have a stronger affinity to the sentiment than previous generations: Nostalgia not only evokes better times — and a sense of belonging — but also makes younger consumers feel more fashionable.

However, companies should be wary that not all nostalgia-driven ventures are money-makers. Many of these do not get the response that was hoped for by creators. Girl Meets World was cancelled by Disney, the Ghostbusters remake was a flop, and some nostagia-driven marketing campaigns fall flat.

These articles give advice for companies looking to attempt nostalgia-driven marketing:

It seems that the best nostalgia is story-driven, reinvents itself, and engages the target audience. A rehash of an old trend isn’t good enough, it needs to still stand on its own feet. There’s a reason why old trends go out of style. It’s important to figure out the target audience and find out from them what they really liked about the old trend and how it’s relevant in today’s world. Hopefully in the future we will see more works that manage to appeal to nostalgia while still being original.