It’s a common misconception that nostalgia is purely an adult phenomenon, harking back decades to fond memories of youth. However, through all of our research, we have found that even teenagers experience nostalgia despite their young age, with brands being well-positioned to tap into these potent emotions to re-engage audiences around an IP that may not be as relevant as it once was.
Nostalgia in teens
The process of growing up involves many changing ‘chapters’, creating many potential phases that teens can be nostalgic about. For adults, powerful reminiscence might occur around things from 10 to 15 years ago, but for teens, nostalgia can strike for memories and events just three to five years prior. This difference presents significant opportunities for companies to harness the power of nostalgia to rekindle interest in their product or Intellectual Property (IP) sooner than typically considered. Adjusting for point of entry and re-engagement, leaning into these nostalgic feelings, should be considered in an IP life cycle.
We often see examples of nostalgic reconnection in video games. For instance, the re-release of ‘Fortnite OG’, a season that harkens back to the original map of the seminal game from five years ago, has caused teenagers around the world to scramble to reactivate their accounts and reunite their old gaming crews from elementary or middle school. This speaks volumes about the pull that reminiscent experiences and the comfort of mastered skills have on teenagers’ engagements with brands and their IPs. The big question now is, will Fortnite retain these OG-returners now that the limited-time OG experience is no longer?
Events that can bridge these emotions with socialization are even more powerful. As seen in Magid’s recent Generation NEXT study about teens and gaming, over half of kids aged 10-17 rate playing with friends as their favorite thing to do while gaming – adding weight to the potency of shared nostalgia. This isn’t just about games either, as the Gentleminions trend (where groups of teens dressed up in their best attire to attend screenings of the new Minions film in the summer of ‘22, a franchise that had deep roots in their childhood) also shows us. Or the rise of childhood favorite IPs making a comeback in proud displays of merchandise and apparel – from Lightning McQueen Crocs to signature Barbie hoodies.
There’s an emotional connection and comfort that comes from nostalgia. It’s akin to going back to a ‘happy place’. While a teenager’s world may seem overwhelmingly complex as they grapple with the realities of growing up, nostalgia offers an comfortable retreat and emotional safe ground. This allows teenagers to experience a shift from intense, exploratory play and challenging interpersonal interactions to simpler, low-social-risk engagements.
How brands can capitalize on this feeling
Brands can lean into the shortened nostalgia cycle among teens by planting the seeds during their milestone chapters, creating strategies that develop a connection to their IP, which can be accessed and reconnected with a few years later.
Successful attempts at this strategy can be seen in the cinema box office success of the ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ film, inspired by the popular jumpscare laden horror game. Teens and young adults who grew up either playing the game or watching popular streamers like PewDiePie or Markiplier play the game, turned out in droves to relive their childhood connection, demonstrating a tangible relationship between nostalgia and brand engagement.
A strategy behind a nostalgia play
It is important to note that using nostalgia should not be viewed as a sure-fire way to reinvigorate a brand. Nostalgia among deserving IPs (ones that have left a strong imprint on teens’ earlier years) serves as a tool for drawing audiences back in, but something more substantial must be offered to maintain their engagement. For this to happen, brands need to think about what makes the nostalgic trigger relevant in the present for their audiences.
A clear strategy needs to be in place behind each nostalgic play, to ensure that this sentiment captures their attention, makes them long to re-engage, and provides something meaningful and relevant to who they are today in order to ultimately help the reconnection stick. Whether that’s reimagining an old IP or creating a new one, this approach could be the honey-and-glue that turns a cultural flashpoint into an enduring relationship.
Ultimately, the power of nostalgia should not be underestimated especially among teens. Brands have a unique opportunity to tap into this potent emotional experience to draw in younger audiences and drive them back to the brand. The key to a successful engagement lies in understanding that while nostalgia can spark their attention, a stronger strategy is needed to keep them engaged and invested.
If you want to learn more about the power of nostalgia email Sarah Holmes (email@example.com) and Jason Rice (firstname.lastname@example.org).