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Using Nostalgia Advertising in Your Holiday Campaigns

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Emotion is a powerful tool – wielded expertly by the world’s top advertisers, and evidenced in the memorable, most decorated ad campaigns of recent history. But how do they do it? One of the ways they achieve deep emotional connection is by playing off of nostalgia…

Nostalgia, coming in like a ghost from our past that gently taps us on the shoulder, leaves a strong and lasting effect. A montage of memories floods our minds, reminding us of the pure joys and favorable chapters in our lives. This incredible emotional response can be triggered by any number of sights, smells, and more. But one of the most powerful forces behind nostalgia is sound.

With a focus on nostalgia triggered by sound and voice, in this post we address how nostalgia affects different generations. We’ll also look at how you can effectively incorporate nostalgia into your holiday campaigns depending on the generation of your target audience.

What is Nostalgia?

Before we get into the usefulness of nostalgia, let’s quickly recap on what it is and why it affects virtually everyone.

Nostalgia has been described as a yearning for an idealized past. Psychologist Alan R. Hirsch explains nostalgia as, “A longing for a sanitized impression of the past. Not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions are filtered out.”

What nostalgia provides to the advertising industry, is a doorway into that precious montage of joyous memories. A nostalgic advertising campaign can be more compelling than a campaign that attempts to hinge on the relatability of everyday life. Creating an immediate emotional tie to the past is stronger than appealing to our present day reality.

One of the sure-fire ways to harness nostalgia through sound is to use music. Songs from our past often launch us into the moments of our lives when we heard them. Even if we’re not consciously thinking about it, the music seeps in and sends us on a subconscious journey to those times.

Another way to play on nostalgia is to identify what voices and vocal characteristics transport your audience into their past and make them experience the warm-and-fuzzies found in that place. Each generation, with their unique experiences and upbringings, have their own draws to a nostalgic headspace. Depending on which generation you’re focusing on this holiday season, you’ll need to keep in mind what they find nostalgic.

Keep reading to see what Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers consider to be nostalgic voices and vocal characteristics.

Voices That Make Gen Z Feel Nostalgic

Generation Z – Approximately defined as those born during the mid 1990s and mid to late 2010s. An Hodgson, the Income and Expenditure Manager at Euromonitor International describes this generation as, “Generally tech-savvy, pragmatic, open-minded, individualistic, but also socially responsible.”

They have never known, and will never know, a time of anything but instantaneous information and constant moment-by-moment updates on significant and insignificant happenings alike. And as such, they experience nostalgia at an accelerated rate. Whereas other generations will feel a pinch of nostalgia from decades ago, Gen Z can feel an ocean’s strength of a wave come over them when reflecting back only two or three years ago.

Because they grew up in a full-throttle digital era, much of Gen Z’s nostalgia is based on viral videos from the early years of YouTube and nuances of social media etiquette, all of which are strongly tied to humor.

Many critics say that Generation Z isn’t receptive to the same marketing strategies as their generational counterparts. They’re more receptive to realism and require hearing from people and figures who they and their peers trust. Amanda Gutterman, VP of Growth at digital media company Dose, points out that this tech savvy generation has a keen nose for malarkey and can smell inauthenticity from a mile away.

A great way to make Gen Z feel nostalgic in your seasonal and holiday campaigns is to tap into the viral YouTube videos, Vines, and Tumblr from the times when Gen Z was able to peruse these channels themselves.

Forums like Reddit can assist in identifying why certain content went viral, which will be helpful in understanding the connotation and references made around the viral content. Gen Z is into ‘cool,’ and partially, what’s cool right now. With that said, in order to avoid accidentally looking untimely (and uncool) by capitalizing on something that went viral a year ago, dig back at least four to six years and craft messaging that plays on the reminiscent hilarity of the old viral content.

After doing your research and uncovering some of those iconic viral moments, evaluate the voices, the language used, and how the general tone can be emulated in your upcoming campaign.

Voices That Make Millennials Feel Nostalgic

Millennials are said to be the most nostalgic generation. Born in the early 1980s to mid 1990s, they’re the last generation to remember a time before the velocity of the digital era. Though there were televisions in every home, and early generation video game consoles were popular, computers were far and few between, and the internet was the new foreign land.

Though they recall this time of simplicity, they too experience a bit more of an accelerated sense of nostalgia. Considering the influence that social media has had on this generation in particular, it’s easy to understand why that same accelerated feeling applies to millennials as it does to Gen Z. The Guardian’s contributor Holly Baxter wrote:

Nostalgia is a completely different beast to generations who have grown up documenting their lives online. It is no longer an internal emotion or a quiet yearning for what has passed. Instead, it is a deafening roar of collective online voices about how far we’ve come, how we can present that progress, and how our teenage identities on MySpace can be reconciled with our twentysomething personas on Facebook.

The simplistic childhood coupled with the surge of the digital world and social media makes millennial nostalgia easy to tap into. The voices that bring about feelings of nostalgia for this generation can stretch back into that uncomplicated childhood or just to the teen years of digital cataloguing.

Because this generation is always thinking of their childhoods, the types of voices that transport them back in time could be a spot-on pop culture reference from their favorite childhood shows, or a warm and soothing voice of a motherly, loving, persona. Depending on what you’re looking to advertise, either option can be an effective way to tie nostalgia to your brand.  

Here’s a brilliant example of pop-culture nostalgia in advertising used by Spotify to attract Millennials to the music streaming service:

There’s another option, too. Research shows that people in general love to hear from people their own age. In this situation, millennials hearing from one of their peers with nostalgic messaging worked into the script is another great way to evoke the same emotional response.

Voices That Make Gen X Feel Nostalgic

Generation X, born in the mid 1960s to early 1980s, are often described as the middle child generation dominated by the influence of the Baby Boomers before them. They reached early adulthood amidst the reverie that their parents were experiencing when reflecting on the more interesting and exciting worldly times of the 1960s and 1970s.

Because of that, and other factors (like Gen X being the first generation to experience the dissolution of the nuclear family with high divorce rates), nostalgia sits differently with a vast majority of Gen X. Some critics say that Gen X was taught to resist it and regard it as a sickness.

That’s not to say that nostalgia should be avoided when marketing to Gen X. But from an advertising perspective, rather than relying on the nostalgia of happy childhood and family times, switch gears to focusing on the attitudes of Gen X from their early adulthood. Nothing throws a Gen X into the past more effectively than the persona of a 1980s late-teen. There are tons of articles from reputable online publications that are able to help you get a solid list of characteristics from that persona. But, while you’re here, here are a few to take with you:

  • Jane Fonda
  • Larry Hagman
  • Princess Diana
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Madonna
  • E.T.
  • Michael Jackson
  • Kathleen Turner (Jessica Rabbit)
  • Michael J. Fox
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Eddie Murphy

For more memorable moments from the 1980s, check out National Geographic’s ‘80s timeline.

After painting a clearer image of the persona you’re employing to tap into the Gen X nostalgia, sites like Voices.com are able to help you post voice over jobs with the descriptors that will attract voice actors who will nail the read. Doing your research enables you to gather clearer artistic direction that ultimately makes selecting the right voice for your Gen X nostalgia campaign possible.

Voices That Make Boomers Feel Nostalgic

Born in the mid to late 1940s and mid 1960s, Baby Boomers surely experience nostalgia, but they’re not as sharply affected by it as other generations. Unlike the quick turnaround time that nostalgia has on Millennials and Gen Z, the nostalgia that Boomers experience spans back more decades than the lifespan of most millennials (they don’t reminisce about the good old days of 5 years ago).

Consumer products that have been around for generations, like certain laundry detergents, shampoos, toothpastes, foods, clothing brands, etc. can easily play on the nostalgia that they trigger in Baby Boomers. They’re the legacy brands that provide the security of a few ‘constants’ in a world of unrelenting change.

Aside from popular sitcoms that incorporated female characters (Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore in the Dick Van Dyke Show, Jane Wyatt in Father Knows Best, and Susan Strange from The Beachcombers), many of the memorable and iconic voices from the time of Baby Boomers youth and young adulthood were male figures from newscasts, talk shows, etc. as television and radio were still male dominated. It wasn’t until the late ‘60s to mid ‘70s that women such as Susan Stamberg, Barbara Walters, and Diane Sawyer broke into the world of television journalism.

With that said, Voices.com research shows that the demand for Baby Boomer female voices are in higher demand than ever before. Gender aside, a common theme amongst Boomers when they reflect on the voices of their yester-years is a feeling of trust, security, and simplicity.

Those adjectives reflect the era in its “we’re all in this together” attitude, feeling of activism making a real impact, a mission to educate with love, and also a desire to please those we love most. Perhaps the best way to make Baby Boomers feel nostalgic is to remind them of those adjectives and attitudes from ‘back in the day,’ and in doing so, selecting voices that feel trustworthy, safe, a serve as a reminder of a simpler time.

Grocery Chain Tesco nailed nostalgia for baby boomers with their 2013 Christmas campaign showcasing a growing family always coming back together for the holidays. Accompanied by Rod Stewart’s ‘Forever Young,’ the ad plays “home videos” from the late ‘70s through to today and shows the realism of family get togethers with all the love and tradition as well as the hectic and awkward moments.

(This ad could also appeal to Gen X and make them long for a family get together this holiday season as well.)

In order to ensure that the voice you select for your project is going to be the most effective, consider holding a focus group or two, with Baby Boomer participants. Have the participants evaluate your top 3 or 4 voice over choices to get a sense of how they resonate with Baby Boomers.

What Do You Think About Marketing With Nostalgia?

How have you used nostalgia in your advertising campaigns? What vocal elements were incorporated? Let us know how your use of nostalgia impacted the campaigns you ran or if your future plans involve nostalgia in the comments below!

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