Using nostalgia as a theme for content ideas

by on 27th January 2016

So far in our ‘Ideas that Work’ blog series, we’ve looked at a guide to Reddit for Web Marketers and we’ve examined two themes that you can use in your content: challenging established conventions and examining ideas of scale.

This week, I’d like to take a look at another popular theme behind successful content marketing (and advertising in general), the use of nostalgic themes.

What is Nostalgia?

Nostalgia is the sensation you experience when you hear a familiar sound or see a familiar object. You experience a sense of happiness or slight sadness for a time that has past.

We’re all quite familiar with the feeling; it probably occurs to us on a daily basis.

Originally, the word “nostalgia” came from Swiss physicians in the 17th Century to describe homesickness felt by their soldiers on foreign campaigns. Now, it’s quite a different notion.

“It’s about trying to go back to a time when things were different… When things are uncertain in the present time, looking backward is a comforting thing for people to do.”

David Sprott, Associate Professor of Marketing, Washington State University

You might remember a few of these classic TV shows, they’re a collection of titles that I remember well as I grew up:


Nostalgia in Advertising

The use of Nostalgia in advertising has manifested itself in one way or another for almost as long as advertising has existed. It’s a very powerful tool to prime a viewer into a desired state. In essence, you’re making someone feel warm and fuzzy inside before you plant your message.

Nostalgia is everywhere. You’ll be able to think of a few of these examples yourself:

Cadbury’s Wispa

After a limited trial run of 20 million bars sold out in a few weeks, Cadbury’s bowed to social media pressure and relaunched their 1980’s favourite, the Wispa bar.

Old Spice

One of the most famous brand relaunches in recent times is Old Spice. They were seen as an outmoded, primitive brand, with their yacht commercials with the Carmina Burana soundtrack. Then, they re-launched with some brilliantly tongue-in-cheek videos.


Fiat relaunched their “500” in 2007, creating a modern interpretation of the classic 500, a highly popular road car in Italy in the 1950’s to 1970’s and still very much so in the classic car scene today.

Their advertising continues to nod to the history and fashion status of the model.


Fiat aren’t alone in the use of nostalgia in their advertising, in fact, most car manufacturers have run a campaign that encourages a nostalgic feeling of some sort. My favourite culprits are Porsche, who celebrated the 50th year of the Porsche 911 in 2014:


Nostalgic Ideation

As we switch to content development and ideation mode, you’re going to need a source of inspiration. it’s literally everywhere. Start by thinking about the categories you’re working in, and begin collecting your raw materials.

Here are some examples of concepts that could be developed into a nostalgic content idea.

Toys and Board Games

A quick search in r/80s on Reddit yields memorabilia, values, history and general discussion. Huge possibilities.


Food brands, packaging and flavours are all great nostalgia triggers.

I know my team are getting pretty tired of my Quality Street tin size anecdotes, but unfortunately for them I think this is a brilliant example of nostalgia contributing to a big response from consumers. Last time, I promise:


People respond aggressively when an item with a high nostalgia value is changed for the worse. In this case, Quality Street’s perceived tin size (and price, obviously) leading the manufacturer to respond to set the record straight.

When Cadbury’s changed the recipe for the Creme Egg, all hell broke loose. The backlash on social media and in the press equated to a loss of £6m in product sales revenue.

I’ve had several conversations about how the prices of everyday objects have changed. I remember when a Mars bar was 20p! I think I can remember a can of coke being similarly priced – certainly the price of a can of coke has gone up drastically since 1990.



Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Brand history is a huge topic. Tales of the world’s oldest companies and most popular, iconic brands are easy to find and many of us are deeply connected to many of them.

Nostalgia is the key reason why brands invest in their branding and straplines. They want to be recognisable through time, developing that sense of familiarity and connection with their customers. That recognition value goes a long way, as all marketers know.

In a piece of work Builtvisible did with The Savoy London, the famous hotel released all of its historic photo archives to journalists, enthusiasts and historians.

People absolutely love this type of content, and there are many ways to repurpose it for PR, web and social channels.

A Few Examples

Here are a few examples of nostalgia in action that grabbed my attention while researching this article.

Child of the 90s: Internet Explorer

Microsoft’s nostalgic campaign, “Child of the 90’s” was designed to attract users back to Internet Explorer, using the basis that we’ve all grown up, including the browser product.

20 Popular Websites When They Launched


This is just a very simple article showing what well known, popular websites looked like when they launched. This sort of content is very popular when presented in the right way; and having only seen examples of the most obvious sites, I think there’s scope to develop the concept further.

Dunlop’s Great Fightbacks

Dunlop have created this simple WordPress site to “explore 10 of the greatest comeback stories from the arenas of sports car and motorcycle racing.”. Users are encouraged to vote for the best story. There’s not enough content like this in Motorsport (I say that as a fan, not just a marketer), so it’s great to see another manufacturer using their heritage in their content marketing.


Danny MacAskill’s Imaginate

Two years in the making, street trials rider Danny MacAskill releases his brand new riding film. Whilst previous projects have focused on locations and journeys, MacAskill’s Imaginate sees Danny take a completely different approach to riding, by journeying through a room full of enlarged, but very familiar objects.


Nostalgia can be a powerful tool in producing a favourable outcome in your content marketing. Used correctly, you can create a lot of goodwill and potentially garner a lot of traffic, links and shares. The trick is in the ideation; find lots of interesting sources of inspiration and construct your ideas around the raw materials you collect.


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