Nostalgia is defined as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.” Over the years, we have seen campaigns that feature nostalgic ideals from the past, which is a sure-fire way to pull at your customer’s heartstrings and sell your brand. But in 2021, we are seemingly in the midst of a little revolution: nostalgia brands reinventing themselves and making comebacks.

There are some iconic brands that dominated the 80s and 90s. Many have since fallen out of the limelight, and most could not keep pace with the rapidly changing world. Newer and younger brands have since then taken their positions. But those brands still retain their value. Playboy Magazine is a case in point. Though it ended its magazine production in March of last year, Playboy has excellent brand recall and evokes a lot of nostalgia. That may be one of the reasons that the company brought back the iconic Playboy “Big Bunny” jet earlier this year. 

Emerging from relative obscurity, several of these supposedly out-of-date brands also indicated that there seems to be a high demand for their products and services. This demand gives brands ample reason and opportunity to cash in on their nostalgic brand value. 


What Is Driving The Nostalgia Brand Comeback?

In these uncertain times, it is perhaps unsurprising to find people returning to the familiar, or to brands that evoke memories of happy and simpler times. But there’s more to this return than just those feelings of nostalgia.

One of the biggest factors that drive this trend is that there is still space for these brands to operate in. We are increasingly millennial-driven, and most of the biggest and most successful brands are focused on the younger segments of the market. But there are large numbers of people from Gen-X and older, who have needs that are not entirely met by these organizations. 

This is especially true in the case of lifestyle and fashion brands. This sector offers a space where brands can appeal to the older demographic and also cater to the younger generations at the same time. It also helps that many of today’s trends are rooted in the fashion that we have seen in the past – the return of 90s fashion means the return of 90s brands too.

Most consumers who grew up in the 80s and 90s are living in a world far different than the one they experienced in past decades. And that doesn’t even account for the changes we have experienced since the onset of the pandemic. This crisis has forced us to live in even more radically removed ways from those of our youth. Some of these older brands and their jingles are etched into our brains, evoking a strong emotional response. Studies show that consumers are likely to spend more money as a result of this emotional response. 

The adoption of digital and social media is allowing nearly obsolete brands to create new opportunities for themselves, whether targeting their old customer base or pursuing new audience segments. These newer opportunities do come with challenges, but those who have strong brand recall have an easier path than those who are starting fresh. 


What Kind Of Brands Are Coming Back?

It goes without saying that some categories are much better suited to comebacks than others – for obvious reasons. Brands within these categories have even managed to establish themselves as serious competitors once again.


A strong argument can be made that this is the industry that has seen the most number of such comebacks. Some of the iconic brands that have been rejuvenated include Converse, Champion, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klien. While many of these brands manage to appeal to the older demographic from a nostalgia perspective, it’s also a great entry into the younger market – who are constantly seeking “vintage” fashion trends to reinvent or reintroduce.

Consumer Products & Lifestyle

As noted earlier, Playboy bringing back the jet is a great example in this segment. They have stayed true to their association with sexuality and have revamped themselves to appeal to additional segments while incorporating a nostalgic product from their past into their current. Their digital publication sees a lot of attention from Gen-Z and they have also expanded their reach in apparel, toys, and other segments. Other products, like every 90s kid’s favorite soda brand Surge, have reemerged as well.

Gaming & Toys

Gaming has been a space that has thrived on nostalgia for quite some time. Top brands in the space, like Nintendo, bring the old video game experience back in fresh ways and bring the classic games back to life in new iterations. Pokemon Go is also a great example. A generation of gamers grew up with their love of Pokemon chasing on their GameBoy and translated it into an immersive, viral mobile game. Lego is another excellent example of an iconic brand renewing itself to stay ahead of the game. 


How Are Nostalgia Brands Making A Comeback? 

Regardless of your past success, the return to mainstream business is certainly not easy – but having a strong foundation helps. Here are some of the key areas that brands are focusing on to make their comeback.

New Product Lines

Having a diversified product line is key for any consumer brand. Some of these nostalgia brands eventually fell out of favor because they could not organically diversify. Today, they are coming up with diversified product lines that focus on customer’s needs but stay true to their core identity and vision. Most of these product lines are natural extensions of what their core business already is but helps them reach new segments and capture additional markets.

A Fresh Narrative

One of the realities that these brands have to face is that the world we currently operate in is entirely different from the ones they used to know. Given this reality, these brands must come up with fresh narratives that capture the aspirations and convictions of the newer generations. These narratives will likely be more nuanced and politically forward, aiming to reach the younger generations who are more conscious of an organization’s stand on key issues such as equality, racism, and discrimination. 

Omnichannel Approach

Most of these nostalgia brands are also taking an omnichannel approach, with a solid mix of physical locations and online availability. And while E-commerce is new to many of them, studies show that nostalgia brands are actually doing quite well on e-commerce platforms. The omnichannel approach also means a fresh marketing slant, using social media extensively and not just focusing on traditional media channels. 

Innovative Approaches To Marketing

Much of the success of nostalgia brands comes from their innovative marketing.  A realization has occurred that just relying on brand awareness alone is not going to get them anywhere in the 2020s. There is also a process of education and engagement that they have to execute in order to present the new and improved version of themselves to the audience. 

Influencer marketing has been a key approach for a lot of these brands. Partnering with new-age icons has been a massive success for retro brands, and many of these approaches also involve setting the right narrative and engaging audiences in the brand mission. After all, they are reintroducing themselves into the market, and it’s not the same climate as it was when they were relevant in the past.


In Closing

Though the idea of nostalgia brands making a comeback is not a completely new concept, the sheer number of brands that are making this journey speaks for itself. It is indeed an interesting trend to watch out for in the coming months and years. Nostalgia in itself gives brands a good starting point, but the current realities also mean that these brands will have to prove themselves all over again. This means assimilating the advances in technology, changes in consumer behavior, and beyond.

In a world where disruptors are always around the corner, these iconic brands are hoping to once again be the disruptors themselves.

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