You see nostalgia being used in advertising all of the time and the funny thing is it even works on people who weren’t around during the period which is being referenced. It may even work better. The last few years have seen the street s fill up with teens and twenty somethings wearing fashion inspired by the nineteen eighties and this is probably because they weren’t around to realise how terrible the clothes were the first time around. For those that were around I often think there is no excuse but the past does funny things to us humans. Nostalgia is the emotion that allows us to paint over the cracks in the edifice of the past and view our histories with a warm glow. I will now expound my hypothesis on why this is and what this means when we think of video marketing. In other words why are people sometimes so silly and how can we exploit this as advertisers? Does that sound mercenary? Good, because it is.The present, even though it is demonstrably better than the past, cannot compete with that rosy glow of innocence Click To Tweet
Why Does Nostalgia Work?
People so often complain about the state of the world and how terrible everything is. I hear it all the time. Perhaps I just have the wrong friends? That’s a question for another time. But the complaint often goes with an assumption that things have gotten worse. The complaint always harks back to a time when things were better, simpler, safer. However, and its a giant big however, there is no evidence to support this. Look at this article. All, and I mean all, of the evidence shows that the world is a better place today than at any time in human history. So what is going on here? People are not stupid. We all do stupid things from time to time but that is not the same as being stupid. Given that people are really quite clever, why is this nonsense about the world getting worse such a pervasive idea?
The reason the idea that the world was better in the past is so pervasive is that… we as humans genuinely perceive the past to have been better, safer, simpler and more thrilling. Why? Because we were children in our past. As adults our lives blur into a continuum of gradual change, one job to another, one relationship to another, one set of chart hits merging into the next and during this we have to be responsible for ourselves and our families. We have to deal with issues, take decisions, pay bills, resolve conflict, vote, pay tax, etc. etc. We have to adult. In our memories this is a continuous period. When we remember and strive to remember something different we go back to the period before adulthood where our memories are organised in a significantly different way. We remember our teenage years, early and late, we remember a pre-teenage period, then that 7-10 age range and before we drift away into a haze of early childhood where some things leap out clear as day and others are lost as vague feelings. In these strata of childhood memories the world is a thrilling place simply because so many experiences are first time events we have never experienced before. If we were lucky enough to be born into loving homes our memories are filled with a sense of safety and security. We are looked after and cared for. Everything is provided for us. There is food and clothing and a home and toys and there are no bills and no responsibility for providing any of this. In short we are loved. If we are aware of any of the world’s troubles then we are aware of them in a vague abstract way that does not impinge on our lives. Even my parents’ generation who were born during or just before the war and spent their childhoods playing where bombs had so recently fallen, largely remember their childhood’s this way. So even when there is pain in our childhood memories we wash it away. Human beings lie, and the person we find it easiest to lie to is ourselves. We don’t remember pain, we just remember that something was painful but we do remember joy and happiness and so we warp our own sense of our past. This means that for most of us our childhoood memories speak of a world of love and care and adventure and where the biggest worries were doing your homework and whether that boy/girl in class liked you.
The present, even though it is demonstrably better than the past, cannot compete with that rosy glow of innocence. Hence nostalgia.
Who Uses Nostalgia?
Advertising of all types trades on nostalgia constantly. Twix adverts have their twin faux Victorian factories, all wrought iron and brick. Werthers have a fantasy great great grandfather doling out sweeties to your grandfather when he was a boy. How many perfume and aftershave adverts are shot in arty black and white? How many use vintage cars and women in ballgowns with men in sharp suits? Did you see the John Lewis Christmas advert? The advert with the old man on the moon looking down because the kind little girl sent him a telescope isn’t designed to appeal to that little girl. It’s designed to appeal to her middle-aged parents, recalling their own beloved grandfathers. That may seem very cynical, but John Lewis has increased its sales and profits year on year throughout a period that has seen high street spending shift online on a significant, no revolutionary, level.
Nostalgia works. So how can we make it work for us?
Three Ideas For Using Nostalgia In Your Video Marketing
1. Set Dressing
In video productions visual cues are the first thing I like to consider when trying to elicit a nostalgic feeling from my viewers. I am going to try and insert objects, locations, fashion, style, decor from the period I want to elicit for my audience. If you have a fleet of old Rolls Royces in your wedding hire business then the video should probably feature brides in classic retro fashions looking truly fabulous for their big day. This panders to and enhances the fantasy that the viewer already has about whet their wedding will be like. If you are an insurance broker you want to elicit feelings of trust by showing what a well loved, solid, responsible business you are. So hark back to those ideas of quality customer care and old fashioned face to face communication by having a customer meet an broker in a nice office, with a solid desk and perhaps wear a three piece suit (even a pocket watch). Dress your office is a slightly retro style, or sit with them in front of a book case full of books and share tea with them in china cups. It all sounds over the top but combined with a section featuring online accessibility you could really conjure an image of friendly experience combined with current knowledge.
A second and more subtle form of visual cue lies in creating images that hark back to famous images but in a modern style. Peter Greenaway is a film maker reknown for staging scenes to resemble old master paintings but within the period and context of the film. Trywatching The Cook, The Theif, His Wife and Her Lover” but only if you’re not sqeamish. The use of staging like this gives the scenes the same sense of drama and grandiosity thta the original paintings had, and this works even if, like me, you weren’t aware of the original works of art. There is something about the scale and the placement of characters that evokes the formality and danger of the painted work that is perfect for the film. I like to try and reimagine favourite film scenes or characters that give the viewer a subconcious sense of depth and meaning that enhances the product I am selling. If you have never watched the television series “Spaced” watch it now.
This is the hardest of my three ideas to master but may ultimately be the most effective. We all want to be cooler, smarter, richer, better looking, more stylish and we all have ideal images in our heads of people who encapsulate that desire. this is a more insidious form of nostalgia in that it is not a rosy glow conjured by our own pasts but by our ability to project onto others that which we desire to be ourselves. So the figures we aspire to are not necessarily from the past. If you sell sports cars your male customers all secretly want to be Steve McQueen, pander to that. If you sell retro fashions, your female customers may aspire to Grace Kelly or Kate Winslet and you should pander to those fantasies.
I’ve said it before, video is the best medium for getting people to engage, but nostalgia is the element of story telling that engages like no other I know.