Young people love old things, especially when they’re tangible. Could a push for commodified nostalgia sustain a new industry?
An FKD Feature exclusive

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, even if it’s experienced vicariously. That’s the idea behind Polaroid’s resurgence and the company’s optimism that they and other nostalgia-centric brands can enrapture millennials with the charm of outdated technology.

It’s true — young people are fascinated by seemingly obsolete technology such as Polaroid instant cameras and vinyl records. In fact, half of record buyers are under 35. Analysts have watched this group’s consumption habits and seem confident that there’s a market for young people buying old things, as seen with Polaroid. The brand’s head of global marketing states that according to market research, “18-to 24-year-olds are astonished the first time they see a Polaroid in action.”

In with the old

Brands are beginning to understand that fascination. Even if the objects are not directly familiar, young people are aware of pop cultural history enough to recognize, for example, an old Nintendo gaming system. The SNES Classic, as it’s called, happens to be another artifact making a comeback. It’s a miniaturized replica game console from 1991, proof of the gaming industry’s vested interest in determining what people are nostalgic for and how best to sell it to them.

But any young person can tell you what research will: we’re interested in unique things that feel like they’re of another era. We’re already buying typewriters and going thrifting. A camera that instantly prints out photos you take? Unheard of! We’ll take 10.

What makes nostalgia marketing so powerful?

It’s important to be aware of cultural trends as they relate to consumerism; the nostalgia industry did not spring up in a vacuum. So where did the desire to relive the past through consumption start? One writer posits that nostalgia is the result of “an innate human impulse, poignantly futile, to try and stop time itself.” Less poetically, a Forbes article analyzing nostalgia-based marketing says that “reliving positive memories and beloved icons from the past feels good.”

Nostalgic feelings also make us more susceptible to marketing. Campaigns that reference the past humanize brands, and in dealing with a generation that’s more skeptical than ever of marketing, nostalgia is the ideal way to reference a shared culture whose artifacts can be sold. What’s more, we could be experiencing a generational backlash against the impermanence of digital culture as millennials grow tired of overstimulation and the lack of physical objects to which they can tether their memories.

Because of this, we’re increasingly interested in old technology from both a functional and aesthetic standpoint.

Takeaway: Everything old is new again

Previously, companies were content to use nostalgia to sell current products. Coca-Cola’s tendency towards commercials with a retro aesthetic depicting the history of their products is one prominent example. But when Pepsi brought back Crystal Pepsi, a short-lived ’90s soft drink, it became clear what a ravenous response people born in the ’90s can have to actual objects that viscerally remind them of that era, even if they don’t personally remember it.

Pepsi, Polaroids, and SNESs are not the end; we’ll likely see this industry strengthen over time. Anything hands-on, anything old yet novel to the youth demographic — rest assured that millennials will take an interest.

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Header image: Adobe Stock

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Posted 11.13.2017 - 11:00 am EST