Nostalgia Marketing: How the Past Can Power Future Content


If there’s one standout theme in media this year, it’s nostalgia. With Star Wars, Star Trek, and Ghostbusters on the big screen, and Pokemon GO ruling summer gameplay, putting a new spin on something from the past has taken the world by storm. At AddThis, we’ve coined this “nostalgiajacking.”

Nostaligajacking – When a brand or marketer taps into emotions or feelings from the past that pre-qualifies their audience to have a formed opinion – generally of excitement.

Note: We totally made this term up, but it’s a good one!

We recently saw rise of a new heavyweight in the nostaligajacking game. Episodic sci-fi thriller Stranger Things released last month on Netflix and has grown to cult-like status with fan theories, fan art, and even tribute videos on YouTube.

With its references, soundtrack, scenes and characters, this eight-part series pays homage to classic 80’s movies TV shows including “The Shining,” “Poltergeist,” “Heathers,” “E.T.,” “The Goonies,” “Alien” and “The X Files.”

But this is not a sequel like Star Wars or a remake like the recent Point Break or The Karate Kid. Stranger Things is an original piece of content that combines multiple parts of nostalgia while delivering new characters, dilemmas and feelings, all of which appeal to millennials all the way up to baby boomers.

What can you learn about content marketing from nostalgiajacking, and more specifically, from the master storytellers behind Stranger Things?

1. Focus on Quality, Before Hype

One of the most fascinating things about the success of Stranger Things is how little buzz there was before it launched. The opposite is true for Star Wars. In the weeks leading up to the new Star Wars release, you couldn’t go anywhere online without seeing Star Wars trailers, commentary, or Star Wars themed content.

The lack of promotion, followed by the awesome surprise of the show’s quality, is what’s getting people so excited. This article describes it as an “upside down” marketing phenomenon, where consumers are selling the show to other consumers, or word-of-mouth.

I saw one trailer for Stranger Things, and that was it. But after watching it over the weekend, I went into the office on Monday talking about it with everyone, reading reviews, fan theories, sharing memes, and more.

At the end of the day, promotion and marketing aside, you’re left with the quality of your content. If your content isn’t up to par, it won’t stick. Check out our article on 4 Steps to Creating Content Marketing that Delivers to learn how to create quality content.

2. Tug at Those Heartstrings

Nostalgia not only comes with a sense of longing or affection for the past, it can also evoke happiness and fun. Stranger Things nails this – and your content can, too.

When creating content, whether it’s a blog post, video, or even a social media post, think of ways you can make an emotional appeal to your readers. Nostalgia is an effective way to do this, meaning it can be done subtly and without much explanation. For example, the Stranger Things opening credits provide immediate visual and audio reference to 80’s cinema, setting the tone for the rest of the show. What easy ways can you tie your content back to an older theme? It could be with a unique set of visuals or as simple as making reference with a blog post title.

Remember, emotions are strong motivators when it comes to content consumption, and can help the chances of your content being shared (just be sure to stay away from clickbait). Read 10 Content Creation Tips to Boost Shares to learn more about creating shareable content.

3. What’s Old is New Again

Just because a piece of content is old, doesn’t mean it can’t still provide value. In fact, some of your older content may be your most valuable in terms of earned backlinks and traffic. But if a post gets too old, it becomes irrelevant and you’ll start seeing less traffic, shares, and an increased bounce rate.

It’s important to look through your analytics to identify older top-performing content you can update to stay timely and to check to make sure you’re targeting relevant keywords.

For example, we recently took a blog post of ours on how to choose the right social media platform for your business, and added Snapchat. It made sense to update that post instead of creating a new one because the rest of it was still relevant. However, it doesn’t always work to update an existing post. Sometimes you need to publish an entirely new piece of content. This is what we did when publishing our 2015 best times to post on social media. We took something we knew worked in the past, gathered new data, redesigned it, and then published.

4. Pace Yourself

Another part of what makes Stranger Things so satisfying is the show’s pacing. In the show’s eight episodes, the Duffer Brothers (the writer/director duo) were able to tell a complete story with an ending that answered enough of the show’s questions that you didn’t walk away feeling frustrated, but still left room for mystery and interpretation.

What are the takeaways for your own content creation? Pay attention to how your content is paced. While it’s really easy to do, avoid fluff or filler content. Make sure what you’re writing moves your piece along and supports or validates your conclusion. Very rarely were there moments in Stranger Things that seemed out of place or irrelevant.

Starting with an outline is one of the best ways to make this work. While it takes more time upfront, it’ll help keep your content on track. Your readers will notice, and will likely spend more time on your post as a result. Also think of ways you can guide your readers through a piece of content. The enjoyable part of Stranger Things was the journey and how the Duffer Brothers built on each episode. When it comes to your written content, think about how you can use visuals to encourage scrolling, in addition to lists, call-outs, and downloadable items.

Have you watched Stranger Things? What other content marketing tips did you pick up from it?