Is nostalgia the lazy option for brands when it comes to marketing creative? The Marketing Society Forum

Is nostalgia the lazy option for brands when it comes to marketing creative? The Marketing Society Forum

Nokia plans to feature its classic Snake game in its marketing activity, while John Lewis has used a track by The Smiths in its latest Christmas ad, just two examples of attempts to tap into nostalgia.


Not when it makes sense strategically. For Nokia it's smart. It is trying to remind people, and itself, of the glory days of the brand, when it was user-friendly and well-designed.

It has lost its way since, but there is no harm in tapping into sentiment and reminding people that what once was great could be good again.

As the character Don Draper says in his infamous Kodak Carousel pitch on Mad Men: 'Technology is a glittering lure but there is the rare occasion ... when people have a sentimental bond with the product.'

He describes nostalgia as a yearning that goes beyond just memory. John Lewis used the yearning for that era in which technology seemed a lot simpler.

So, for some technology brands and retailers with an audience formed by the early majority, rather than the early adopters, nostalgia is a valuable tool. Many people are excited by, but uncertain about technology, so giving reassurance that they aren't buying into a gimmicky product is a real benefit.

Nokia is setting out to remind those people of that.


Nostalgia is a useful tool for marketers, but only when it's used appropriately and is relevant to the brand.

Nokia has been under big pressure to turn its fortunes around. It has been under attack from brands like Apple, which is built on a monster of an emotional platform.

While Nokia can, and has, worked on the functionality and aesthetic appeal of its products, it finds it difficult to get close to the 'must have, positively need' appeal of an iPhone.

Nostalgia is all about emotion so bringing back something such as Snake, which was close to the hearts of its consumers more than 10 years ago, may go some small way to bridging the 'brand heart' gap.

Likewise, the use of a song by The Smiths for John Lewis' Christmas ad is entirely appropriate, because Christmas is about nostalgia and emotion.

However playing the cosy, nostalgia, cliche card, because the contemporary world is coming apart at the seams, does smack of desperation and a lack of relevant creativity.


There is a lot of merit in using nostalgia as a creative vehicle. Generations of marketers have made careers out of reinventing this wheel, and they can't all be wrong.

For many people, nostalgia is a welcome respite from tough economic times, and a reminder of better days. Importantly, it can also offer a precious 'quick read' to a particular emotional state, which means a brand can spend more time communicating product benefits or a call to action.

The fantastic John Lewis spot certainly works for me - it had me dusting off my old Meat is Murder album and ordering a copy of the 1973 FA Cup Final DVD for my daughter's Christmas present.

Whether nostalgia is too bold a route for Nokia is open to debate. Focusing on a low-tech parody of a prehistoric entertainment format strikes me as an uncomfortable reminder of Nokia's recent fall from grace, with too many parallels to its humiliating defeat in the smartphone market for my liking.

Then again, what do I know? I'm still wearing Adidas Samba.


Brands are similar to living entities that require nurturing and protection, in that they have a life beyond people, companies and fixed assets.

Brands also need to have strong personalities rooted in something, which could be a history, myth, product truth or something that is, hopefully, unique.

Nostalgia illustrates that the brand has something memorable to the consumer with the added benefit of being highly efficient in media, as it is already 'warm' when it reaches them.

In addition, people are, of course, nostalgic to a point, and strong brands often pepper their life stories, so reminding them of these happy memories is an easy way to engage and prompt them to consider a purchase.

For more discussion, visit

The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to inspiring bolder marketing leadership.