The main purpose of this paper is to examine the existing literature and research that has been developed regarding the use of nostalgia as a marketing strategy both in its use in advertisement as well as in products that try to generate a nostalgic response in the customer. The main definitions and causes of nostalgia will be examined and the applications that nostalgia can have to modern marketers.
The use of nostalgic motives has been increasing since the early nineties from the re-introduction of the mini cooper by BMW and the launch of the New beetle by Volkswagen, to the recent resurgence of 1980´s themes like Transformers and The A – team, as well as the use of pop culture icons and old music in advertisement directed to attract customers that are especially vulnerable to appreciate them.(Holbrook, 2003)
Definition of Nostalgia
Nostalgia has been defined in a number of occasions and its definition may vary depending on the look from where it is described, in psychology and anthropology is generally described as a a positively toned evocation of a lived past (Davis 1979), but the study of nostalgia can be traced further back in time, in the seventh century it was considered a clinical condition (Stern, 1992) Nowadays nostalgia is considered to be “An emotional state in which an individual yearns for an idealized or sanitized version of an earlier time period”,(Stern, 1992) it contains both pleasant and unpleasant components, it brings a bitter sweet emotion characterized by pleasant memories of the past as well as a sense of loss and knowledge that this past is long gone and cannot be attained again.(Holak and Havlena,1992)
The recollections generated through nostalgia are those of an idealized past, the memories are filtered and modified so that the negative aspects of the past are omitted. (Havlena and Holak, 1991, Brown, 1999,Muehling and Sprott,2004) Sometimes the causes of nostalgia had been explained through socio-economic factors, long migration patterns as well as societies in turmoil had been seen as more prone to nostalgia (Brown, 1999)
Three levels of nostalgia have been described by Davis (1979)
Level one is characterized for the desire to return to the past and the belief that things were better in the the old times.
Level two is more reflexive and involves the investigation or reflection of the motives and causes that generate the nostalgic response.
Level three is analytic in nature and in it the subject interprets the nostalgic experience itself. (Davis, 1979)
Historical and personal nostalgia
There has been controversy as whether nostalgia can be generated only from recollections of a person's own life or if events from the past, before they were born can also generate this feeling. (Holbrook and Schindler,1991, Holbrook,1993)
Davis (1979) states that the experiences must be drawn from one's personal history and not from events seen in books or films, but more contemporary authors disagree, some claim that events before someone was born can generate a nostalgic response, that is why nostalgia has been separated into two categories: personal and historical.
Historical nostalgia is the representation of the past before the subject was born, is the desire to retreat to a fantasized past when things where better than the current time. It is generally displayed by almost mythological characters and exotic places.(Stern, 1992)
Personal nostalgia is the idealization of a past time in someone´s life, the memories are filtered, so that the past recollected seems better that how it actually was. (Stern, 1992, Muehling and Sprott,2004) Even though personal nostalgia can be evoked from ten to up to seventy years back, the adolescence and early adulthood seem to be more likely to generate this feelings. (Havlena and Holak, 1991, Holak and Havlena,1992)
Nostalgia in consumer behaviour
In the end of the twentieth century the recurrence of nostalgic themes in products and advertisement was acknowledged to the fin de siècle effect, where, as people sees the end of an era, they tend to look to the past to examine their achievements and failures (Stern, 1992) but this theory is debatable since as the new century develops we can still observe the phenomenon going on, some authors have even described nostalgia to be part of the human condition or as the normal way of things.(Holbrook and Schindler,1991, Brown, 1999)
For the purpose of marketing and customer behaviour a different definition of nostalgia must be used, Holbrook and Schindler (1991) define nostalgia as “a preference (general liking, positive attitude, or favourable affect) toward objects (people, places, or things) that were more common (popular, fashionable, or widely circulated) when one was younger”, this means a special inclination for products and activities that by one reason or other cannot be commonly experienced or are not available any more. (Schindler and Holbrook, 2003)
Holak and Havlena (1998) complement this definition by stating that nostalgia is not a preference for these objects but that is a feeling or mood produced by the association of these objects with their past, a relationship that other objects do not have and therefore they have a preference for the objects that produce the nostalgic responses.
Research has been conducted to understand the motives of this nostalgic response to certain objects and experiences, a study by Holak and Havlena (1992) tries to identify the most recurrent motives in nostalgia, through the analysis of descriptions of nostalgic experiences, they realized that people especially friends and family where the most common motive in the experiences related, this was not only when describing a recollection related to this persons but also when describing objects or events. They realized that the nostalgia generated by this objects is mainly to the memories and thought of the loved ones evoked by the objects. (Holak and Havlena,1992).
A different research done by Holbrook (2003) found the main thematics that emerged from descriptions of nostalgic experiences, he found that most experiences where related to the following categories:
Sensory experience: the objects are associated with the subject's sensory pleasurable experiences like smells and tastes of their past Homeland: a bond is created to objects from a distant land Rites of passage: they are related with deeply meaningful transitional moments Friendships and loved ones: the objects are significant as they represent people and social relationships Gifts of love: it reminds them of human affection
Security: objects valued as security tokens from previous troubled relationships Breaking away: the subjects relate the objects to freedom, like travelling or independence Art and entertainment: they represent mental or spiritual freedom Performance and competence: tools that represent long perfected skills of their trade
Creativity: objects related to artistic creativity
Furthermore Holbrook suggests that there is no limit to the type of objects that can create a nostalgic bonding.
It is known that nostalgia can create both positive and negative feeling in a person that is why different studies have tried to understand and describe the feelings generated by these nostalgic experiences. Holak and Havlena (1998) found on their research, where people where asked to describe nostalgic experiences related to objects persons and events, that positive emotions like warmth, joy, affection, and gratitude were reflected in the descriptions, this is understandable, especially if we consider that most of the descriptions where related to friends and family, but negative emotions were also present, specially some sort of sadness and sense of loss related to the impossibility to recreate or return to those moments in the past.
Goulding (2001) considers nostalgia consumption is generated both as a consumption experience itself as well as a social mechanism to cope with the stress and anxiety of modern life and to escape from a society that can leave them alienated and frustrated. She analysed the behaviour of visitors to heritage museums and found that nostalgia was based on the admiration for the arts of the period and a sense that these are lost in modern society.
Essentially she found that individuals who are empowered, in control of their lives, and happy with their role in society do not tend to react with nostalgia to images of the past, but those in adverse position, with lack of social supports will look to the images of the past to temporarily cope with the feeling of alienation.
Nostalgia Proneness, Gender and Age
The fact that some people may be more or less prone to have nostalgic responses to certain stimuli has been questioned by diverse researchers. Holbrook and Schindler (1991) developed a 20 item index to determine the proneness of a person to nostalgia, after further analysis the index has been reduced to only 8 items that successfully determine the level of proneness to nostalgia of a person; this index has been proved and used extensively by other researchers. (Havlena and Holak, 1991, Holbrook,1993, Brown, 1999)
The age on which people is more likely to develop nostalgia has also been a case of study, some suggest that persons approaching middle age and seniority are more likely to develop nostalgic responses, although studies by Holbrook and Schindler (1991,1993) do not find a relationship with age and nostalgia proneness measured by his index. Moreover some experiences and times in past are more likely to be subject of nostalgia, times of change and development such as adolescence and early adulthood seem to create stronger nostalgic responses.
Holbrook (1991, 1993, 2003)suggest that preference, music, films and even cars peaks around the age of 20 or 24 years, this can be related to a period when the consumption of such products is linked to an intense positive emotional experience and because of this, this preferences tend to last through the person’s life. Nostalgia proneness is also related to the preferences for things of a certain period of someone´s life, as demonstrated in a study by Schindler and Holbrook (2003) men with greater nostalgic tendencies seemed to prefer cars that were popular when they were young, but the one´s with lesser tendencies to be nostalgic did not showed the same preference.
It was also noticed that even though the preference for certain objects could be related to a specific time in someone's life, nostalgia can be very selective and even if individuals have a response for stimuli from a certain era a different stimuli from the same period may not create any response at all. (Holbrook,1993)
Finally relationship between gender and nostalgia proneness has been studied with inconclusive results, general finding assume that there is no relationship between gender and nostalgia proneness (Goulding, 2001), but some studies like the ones of Holbrook (1993) regarding film preference, as well as Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) have found that women are more likely to develop nostalgia. It has been also noted that the objects which generate nostalgia can vary greatly between genders, while men are stimulated by objects of action, women are stimulated by objects of contemplation (Havlena and Holak, 1991), such attitude can be demonstrated through studies like the one performed by Schindler and Holbrook, (2003) regarding preference for cars based on a nostalgic response, where a sample of men showed tendency for preference of cars from the subjects youth, however the women sample did not seem to show any pattern at all.