Nostalgia Marketing: Why we listen to the voices from the past

As far as Nollywood is concerned, Charles Okpaleke is a singular kind of filmmaker.

Not an auteur in the traditional or purist sense of the word. But more like a committed businessman zooming in on a particular tenet of advertising and milking it down to the last drop.

 Nothing sells quite as good as nostalgia. In the circle of life- and business – nothing is new under the sun and everything that has come before will repeat itself. Some buzz words have emerged to document these cyclical changes. Reinvention. Reimagination. Sequels. Remakes. Reunion specials. They are pretty much saying the same thing. What was old becomes new eventually. Just give it some time.

Nostalgia marketing taps into this enduring truth. It leans into fond memories and aligns marketing strategies with emotions, some long forgotten, others buried just beneath the surface. From reworking the Nollywood canon for a new generation of cinema audiences to fashion trends, reality television and even breakfast cereals, the savvy brand is the one engaging with consumers through retro retools that tap into cultural memories from the past and speak to specific universal emotions. Global brands in industries like tech, gaming, media and sporting goods have led the way with nostalgia marketing, inspiring copycat moves from tinier, less than mighty brands.

The results have been impressive, too.

Think Pokémon GO from a few cycles ago. Too distant? Let’s try again. Only recently, the highly anticipated reunion special of the classic nineties’ sitcom, Friends was a huge hit for parent company Warner Bros. According to analytics reports, the special which debuted in May after a year-long delay due to the covid pandemic, drove more sign-ups to streaming platform HBO Max in its opening weekend in the US than any other new movies this year. This includes the much-ballyhooed Zack Snyder cut of Justice League and the double monster might of Godzilla vs. Kong in case you were wondering. Interesting also that they are both nostalgic properties as well.

Why does Nostalgia marketing work so well, more with the Friends reunion for instance, than a dumb studio tentpole?

It is not rocket science. Nostalgia marketing operates on the simple premise that reliving fond memories and positive experiences from the past feels good. The covid pandemic brough to reckoning living conditions that were frankly unsustainable and could only lead to burnout in the long term. Adulthood is hard work. Composed of a combination of brutal working hours, stressful commutes, hectic work schedules, disapproving supervisors, piling responsibilities and bills, bills, bills. It really never ends once it starts.

Like a salve to the realities of the daily grind, fond memories of a so-called better time are eagerly welcomed and voraciously consumed. These curated memories make people smile, and subsequently leave their minds receptive to brand messaging. The emotional part of the brain is activated with nostalgia marketing, knocking down defenses that would usually come up otherwise. When people care for something, they are much more likely to act on suggestions or recommendations from external factors. This has proven quite true with millennials and the zoomer generation.

Just take a peep at TikTok and watch for the latest trend or challenge. It is either a forgotten pop hit from back in the oughties or a viral clip of a film from old Nollywood. You know the kind. The type that typically has meme king Osita Iheme front and center, or one with an actress dishing out hilarious but often dodgy post-feminist bon mots.

Tochi Anueyiagu, one half of the team behind the famous Nollybabes account, a hit digital space for sharing old Nollywood clips explained some of their success to The Face, “[We] have always been about not only showcasing iconic Nollywood fashion moments, but also the attitude and confidence of the women in those films.” She said.

What easier way is there to connect- especially emotionally- with a young person today than by sharing a compelling blast from the past? Digital media is cold and impersonal on some level true enough but there is no denying that these same platforms have helped build social connectedness in ways that have been impossible in the past.

Working in nostalgia as the thread connecting people on a primal level gives companies leverage to tap into the human need to connect on deeper levels beyond the physical. Associating brand messaging with positive references from the past helps to humanize brands and make them relevant. This also fosters meaningful connections between the past and present.

Don’t Rush

It isn’t always guaranteed that nostalgia marketing is going to work though. As with most ideas, it helps to be strategic about working memories into brand marketing. Employing throwback strategies without placing the modern realities in context may fall flat. The key would be to deftly deploy nostalgia in the creation of an emotional hook while keeping in mind to offer something new at the heart of the campaign. 

The perfect combination of past and present could be gleaned in the Friends reunion with the inclusion of stars like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga as well as a segment dedicated to real life fans across the world. That way audiences could reunite with perhaps the most famous sextet in the world but also enjoy brief appearances from some of the biggest names in the contemporary pop world. Win win.

Tips for creating your brand’s nostalgia marketing strategy

The following could work.

A talented, resourceful team

Like any other marketing campaign, nostalgia campaigns that work will demand intensive input and a talented creative team to drive them. Authenticity is key and even the best-laid plans can still fall flat if consumers fail to buy in. Identifying those special moments and unique cultural events from the past will require that brands keep a finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. To plug into creative ideas, brand managers and teams must be close to the people and be ever willing to listen to what the streets are saying. A good way to start is to actively monitor #ThrowbackThursday and #FlashbackFriday trends across social-media channels.


A decent strategy should have a purpose. A simple primer could be asking the how, what and why. Some good reasons to use nostalgia in brand advertising include reviving a product or service that was previously discontinued, commemorating a milestone or anniversary, introducing a fresh image to recapture market share or even highlighting significant changes in the company. A strong reason is always helpful as opposed to just following trends.

Tailor the message to appropriate audience

The key to any marketing campaign is to understand the needs and preferences of your audience. Before you can engage in any nostalgia marketing strategy, brands must make sure they are engaging with the right generation and reaching the right demographic. The age-range of the target audience, their habits, interests, must be carefully researched. Having established these, the retro messaging should be adapted to meet the brand’s voice and identity. Retro marketing doesn’t necessarily mean discarding brand character. Consistency is key.

Social media is unavoidable

Because nostalgia is an emotional experience and a collective one too, social media is an ideal way for brands to start introducing consumers to their newest strategies. People don’t just want to enjoy the memories of a nostalgic piece of media, they also want to be able to share these moments with their loved ones and followers. Consumers are likely to buy a product that appeals to them on a personal level. By taking advantage of social media, brands can increase the impact of their campaign by naturally starting conversations about those memories and experiences.

Back to Mr Okpaleke.

Since making his big screen production debut with the top grossing remake Living in Bondage: Breaking Free, Okpaleke’s Play Network studios has put out remakes of two other Nollywood cult classics, Rattle Snake and Nneka the Pretty Serpent. He shows no signs of stopping with reboots of Glamour Girls and the Osuofia franchise coming up. His unique selling point- inconsistent as it has been- is to update the old video staples and bring them into the 21st century for an audience used to their blockbusters big and splashy.

The past keeps calling and Okpaleke is listening.


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