Zeitgeist of Now: Why we crave & love nostalgia so much
by Jason Stewart (@HaveYouHeard_SA) When we are most scared, tired and just over it, we usually head home to bed or call our moms — the places we feel safe, secure, comfortable and protected. This is an over-simplification but an apt analogy for the topic of this article.
One of the toughest
There’s no doubt that, while life in 2019 is considered much better than at any other time in humanity’s history, it is also one of the toughest — emotionally and mentally. We’re not only inundated with distractions; we’re trying to cope with a changing national and global structure that mostly held strong since the mid-1940s but now seems to be unravelling. Never before have we had so many things to choose from, buy and enjoy but, equally, never before have we had so much strain on our disposable income.
Our mental and emotional wellbeing, knowingly or not, is under siege. When that happens, we look for safety, security, comfort and protection. One of the easiest ways to find that is through nostalgia — things that remind us of our past (or that of others) when life was romanticised by our brains in a warm sunny glow and everything just seems to have felt better.
To understand this, we need to understand what nostalgia is: a ‘hack’ our brains play on our memory to make our pasts seem rosier and happier than they were. It is a human coping mechanism to be able to let go of pain and stress so that we don’t carry it with us, excluding traumatic experiences, of course.
If you think back to any time of your life, you will find it hard to remember or reexperience the social anxiety, awkwardness, fear or other negative emotions you were subjected to in that moment. When you remember those times, you remember them in a glow or warmth. Films and movies also add to our distorted memories by romanticising the past.
In 2009, one year on from the financial collapse of the world, the search term “SciFi” dropped dramatically. This is because, when we are experiencing stress, most of us retreat. When times are good and we are confident and comfortable in life, we are keen to explore, experiment, take risks and generally head out into the galaxy, never looking back but only forward. But when we are at risk, overwhelmed, tired and anxious, we are looking for refuge and seeking to head back home, rather than out into the wild unknown. With the majority of the world feeling this way, this is the reason why we are seeing people respond to and seek out nostalgia.
But why does this matter? Because it’s the reason we’re seeing an explosion of consumable nostalgia, that of bringing the past more and more into the present. It’s the reason “Baby Shark” was such a hit for adults (it was fun, made us forget stress for three full minutes and it made us feel as happy as we believe we were when we were five).
Bring back the past
It’s why we’re drawn towards styles, designs and aesthetics that bring the past back into today. If you browse any fashion list of today’s top fashion, you’’’ see how nostalgia is part of almost every aspect.
Our experience and understanding of the past are also becoming more enriched through the fragmented and multiple new content platforms that bring the past to life through podcasts, TV shows and more, allowing for more use and inspiration to draw from.
Finding nostalgia in fashion is probably the easiest and most obvious. The below image is directly from the Teen Vogue 2019 Fashion musts — all styles ‘stolen’ directly from different eras.
Even technology hardware and products are designed taking into account what we loved and trusted when we were young. Using the big cute-eye profiles of teddy bears and puppies makes robots look friendly and safe. Take the eyes away, and we may start doubting the cuteness of this tech.
Key lesson for brands
- Understand the type of nostalgia that would work for your target market, based on the context of their age, the product and the emotion or experience
- Humans respond to stories; nostalgia is just another of those stories. Is your brand story interesting, or could you perhaps leverage a similar story to connect you with your audience?
Jason Stewart is co-founder of HaveYouHeard (@HaveYouHeard_SA), a full-service agency. Zeitgeist of Now, his new column on MarkLives, is inspired by the agency’s proprietary tool developed to understand the invisible but powerful forces that influence people, products, culture and societies. If we appreciate these, he argues, we become more-effective marketers.