Nostalgia has become the currency of pop culture, especially the film industry. Hollywood hardly dares make a movie now unless it is a reboot of something old, established, and already impregnated with an eager fan base.
For all this resurgence of nostalgia, the marketing world has yet to tap the full extent of this vein. It is a science — an increasingly respected part of our psychological makeup — and more marketers and businesses should take it just as seriously as they do the science of “going viral” or other trendy marketing topics.
But Wait, Wasn’t Nostalgia Once Considered a Mental Illness?
According to PsyBlog, nostalgia was once regarded as a mental illness, mostly in the 19th Century. Researchers in those days couldn’t decide if demons in the “middle brain,” atmospheric disturbances, or the constant clanging of bells in the Swiss Alps were the cause of it. (The Swiss were really nostalgic back then, apparently.)
Psychologists are now seeing nostalgia as a positive mental process. They’re recognizing that it’s a normal part of being human. We use it to access the riches of the things we’ve experienced in life much like someone accesses savings in their bank account when their checking account is a little low.
And as far as what those “low” things are that turn us to nostalgia, the PsyBlog article above mentions something interesting: research has found that people use nostalgia to deal with boredom, loneliness, and the fear of death, to name a few.
However, in recent years science has found some startling new benefits of nostalgia, and it’s time that marketers started putting these discoveries to work.
Why Marketers in Cold Weather Should Leverage Nostalgia for Their Content Marketing Campaigns
A psychiatric study conducted by the University of Southampton found clear evidence that feelings of nostalgia increase body heat. Nostalgia actually helps you stay warm in cold weather. They measured the effect of nostalgia on a variety of test groups in different temperatures and settings, and found that nostalgia increased body heat and gave people a greater tolerance of cold weather.
So, nostalgia is, quite literally, a burning fire in our hearts. (So if you live on the East Coast this winter, start thinking now about that kickass trip to Disneyland you took back in grade school — or maybe break out your MC Hammer cassette tape.)
Disclaimer: The study made it clear that the effect has its limits. In other words, don’t walk into a blizzard this winter wearing only your underwear and thinking happy thoughts about “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” when the Ewoks kicked some serious Storm Trooper ass. Nostalgia does not make you invincible.
But if nostalgia can literally heat our bodies in the winter and produce a positive physiological effect, marketers should be pouring some serious nostalgia into their content creation if they are targeting clients who live in cold weather.
It’s a no-brainer.
Just seeing your blog post could warm them up after they’ve come in from the freezing cold after an offsite lunch meeting. That difference alone — that the nostalgic theme in your content is warming their bodies for a moment — could quietly tip them in your direction, and the next thing you know you have a new subscriber, a new customer, or someone who will easily remember your brand the next time they see it.
But as it turn outs, nostalgia is not just good for your clients when they see your content. It’s actually good for the content creator too.
How Nostalgia Helps Content Creators Perform Better
In a separate study, also by the University of Southampton, researchers found that thinking nostalgic thoughts produced more creative ideas — and more creative expression of those ideas — in its test subjects.
Here’s how they discovered this correlation:
- In the study they asked 175 participants to think of a nostalgic memory, which they defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.”
- Then they asked each person to write a story using writing prompts that the researchers provided.
- They asked another group to write stories but without thinking of a nostalgic memory.
- The people who thought of something nostalgic before beginning all scored higher in the evaluations that graded the linguistic and creative quality of the prose.
The researchers wanted to make sure it really was the nostalgia element of it and not just the generally positive emotions of a happy memory. So they did another experiment.
- They had one group think of a generic happy memory — a moment of good luck that happened to them (i.e. they won a contest or found a fifty dollar bill on the sidewalk).
- They had another group think nostalgic thoughts.
- Both groups were given the same writing prompts.
- The latter group with the nostalgic thoughts scored higher in their creative writing than the first group.
One of the researchers, as quoted by Fastcodesign.com, came to this conclusion about why nostalgia has this effect: “One of the strongest personality traits that predicts creativity is openness. People who are very open to novelty are more likely to, say, play around with new ideas or create connections between things where others would not.”
The article summed it up this way: nostalgia gives us a distinct feeling of “belonging, meaning, and security that opens them up to future experiences.” That openness then translates into better creativity.
So besides using nostalgia strategically in your marketing campaigns — especially if you’re targeting clients in cold weather — start bringing your favorite family albums to work and plaster your cubicle with those old Polaroids and retro movie posters. It just might help you create better content.