Marketing nostalgia — nostalgia as an explicit quality — connects older adults to people and events that have withstood the test of time. Nostalgia connects people to authentic and treasured experiences.
Authenticity is a core marketing strategy to reach older adults. Nostalgia is one way to signal authenticity to mature consumers.
In the English-speaking world, Ozzy Osbourne is part of the sound track of life. He is authentic, and his musical hits are nostalgic. He and his music are still relevant to fans of heavy metal – he’ll play a concert next to Google’s headquarters in October 2018. His earlier hits still resonate. Listen to “Crazy Train.” Your heart is pumping:
Ozzy Osbourne personifies authenticity in marketing. Ozzy was the lead singer for heavy metal band Black Sabbath before launching his solo career. Ozzy stayed true to himself and his fans.
In 2017, Metal Casino partnered with Ozzy and gave him an equity stake in exchange for Ozzy being their brand ambassador. Metal Casino is an online betting website in the UK. Here is what Ozzy says about Metal Casino:
“The guys at Metal Casino told me that their brand was all about being true, relevant and dedicated to the customer and that really resonated with me…to me, that translated as keeping it real, keeping it original, and doing it all for your fans, and that’s all I’ve been trying to do my whole life.”
If you’re a metal head, and you like to bet (no doubt this is a big market, especially in the UK), then Metal Casino is playing to authenticity in marketing. By partnering with Ozzy Osbourne, Metal Casino appeals to customers who identify with Ozzy’s era, his music, and his working class English roots. Here is the home page of Metal Casino’s website:
Authenticity in Marketing is achieved through 6 qualities
Marketers can appeal to any of these 6 qualities to demonstrate authenticity:
- Personal Service
- Higher Purpose
Consider how Ozzy embodies 3 or more of these qualities, making him an Authenticity Superstar:
- Marketing Experiences – Yes, I remember…Crazy Train is road trip music with national airplay.
- Marketing Nostalgia – Yes, a force from the 70’s and 80’s, still touring today.
- Marketing Natural Qualities – No, nothing natural.
- Marketing Originality – Yes, heavy metal rebelled against societal norms.
- Providing Service – Perhaps. Ozzy is true to his fans, he gives it all at his concerts.
- Emphasizing Higher Purpose – Perhaps, if rebelling against the blandness is a higher purpose.
Marketing Nostalgia Can be Fresh, Not Stale
Honda draws on the pull of nostalgia in advertising the Pilot SUV. In this commercial, a family sings along to Crazy Train. “Crazy, but that’s how it goes. Millions of people living as foes. Maybe. it’s not too late. To learn how to love, and forget how to hate.”
How to Use the 3 Simple Rules of Authenticity in Marketing
Whether you are using email, video, billboard or websites, there are 3 ways marketers can purposefully inject authenticity into campaigns:
- Consumers want an experience. It’s not enough to sell a good people will consume, or a service which will be used. Explicitly connect the “today” experience to one of the 6 qualities of Authenticity, such as Nostalgia (Ozzy) or Higher Purpose (Prius). For example, Honda connects today’s “road trip” experience to what could have been the parents’ road trip decades ago.
- Marketers must “show” authenticity, not claim it. You don’t have to tell people you’re “the real thing” if you are. Levi’s hardly needs to sell to baby boomers, they will buy Levi’s jeans regardless. Levi’s is the real thing.
- You’d better be authentic. You have to have street cred. Don’t pull on a mantle that’s not true.
“The mature consumer has encountered authenticity and inauthenticity in advertising many times, and in the fall and winter seasons of life, they will choose what they perceive to be ‘the real deal.”1
Marketing Nostalgia Risks Racial and Cultural Blind Spots
Ozzy Osbourne is a flag bearer for Heavy Metal music, a musical genre which was sexist and racist. If you are an African American who bought music in the 70’s and 80’s, you didn’t buy Black Sabbath albums. You played slow jams, bought Public Enemy records, or saw Rick James in concert. One group’s experience does not apply to everyone. Marketers can literally “white wash” culture if they hope Ozzy represents everybody.
Does Nostalgia Need to be Happy?
Here is a definition of Nostalgia:
Nostalgia is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
I would expand this definition. Nostaglia connects us with strong and valued feelings from our history. They do not need to be rosy, happy experiences. A memory can be strong, valued and treasured if we were angry or overcoming adversity. Consider this: the most popular songs are about heartbreak.
However, for marketers, connecting with Nostalgia means connecting with happiness. Marketers want to evoke a positive emotion. Borrowing a nostalgic halo means borrowing a happy halo. For marketers, yes — nostalgia must be happy.
If you are marketing to Generation X, Boomers, Seniors or Elders, authenticity is an important arrow in your quiver. Another quality you can appeal to is Generativity. We wrote about this in our post, Generativity in Marketing.
Notes: 1: Blockquote from Edgar Keehan. Keehan identifies 7 qualities of authenticity; my short list of 6 are adapted from his writing in Grey Ocean Strategy, an excellent textbook I draw upon frequently and which inspires much of my work.