The Greeks had a very precise meaning for the word ‘nostalgia.’ Let Don Draper tell you all about it. Today, though, nostalgia is more loosely defined, and we can find everywhere. On a daily basis we’re broadsided with new pieces of ’80s and ’90s nostalgia, whether we want it or not. A Lisa Frank movie? Check. A ‘Saved by the Bell’-themed restaurant? You know it. An entire section on the Huffington Post dedicated to the very topic of ’90s nostalgia? Of course. It’s a lot—too much, maybe—but overload, overkill and oversaturation by definition all point to the potency of something. And though pervasiveness of all this nostalgia might rub some of us the wrong way, an element here is clearly working, hence its ubiquity. In this case, that element is nostalgia marketing.
The premise behind nostalgia marketing is simple: take an idea, a concept or a product that worked before and try it again. It’s not dependent upon a product, but rather the emotion that that product once inspired. And that’s why some brands are going so far as to bring products back from the dead—to likewise resurrect long dormant feelings in consumers. Nostalgia marketing is all about feeling.
Nokia, two decades ago the world’s best-selling mobile phone brand, is breathing new life into a 17-year-old cellphone, the 3310, known in some quarters as “the most reliable phone ever made,” (or, in this office, as “the brick”). The 3310 will be much as it was before, replete with all of its original, primeval features. Nokia is tacitly (re)releasing a product lost to time, but not to memory, and banking on the pre-existing emotional connection consumers have to it.
Nostalgia marketing isn’t dependent upon a product, but rather the emotion that that product inspired long ago.
That connection is why Nokia isn’t afraid to line this relatively ancient product up against its better-looking, better-performing progeny. Nostalgia marketing isn’t about looks (though those bold shades of grapefruit red and lemon sure are eye-catching) or performance. Consumers aren’t so much buying a substandard product, per se, but the feeling they had when they picked up their parent’s 3310 seventeen years ago and played Snake until their thumbs went numb. They’re making a direct connection with the past.
Nintendo’s story mirrors that of Nokia’s. It was one of the first to the well in its industry—as often a curse as it is a blessing—that was soon eclipsed by smarter, hungrier competitors. And like Nokia, it is also best remembered for the incarnation of one of its earlier products: the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System.
Understanding the potential to turn some serious profit on what is essentially a cheap hunk of plastic, Nintendo cranked the nostalgia factor up to 11 last year when it hosted a one-weekend-only ’80s-themed launch event at the company’s New York store, celebrating the launch of the NES Classic Edition. That edition—smaller than the original and preloaded with 30 games—but otherwise identical to its forebear, can now be found on Amazon for $163, or two-thirds of the cost of a brand new Xbox One—arguably the most powerful gaming console on the market. That’s the power of nostalgia marketing. By reaching deep into our emotional well, it can make us pay more—or, at least, almost as much—for less.