Who Needs Holiday Nostalgia? You Do
And what's more, savvy marketers know that you do, two UA professors say about the "most wonderful time of the year."

By Robin Tricoles, University Relations - Communications
Dec. 21, 2015


From Budweiser’s Christmastime Clydesdale commercials to in-store holiday carols, nostalgia is everywhere at this time of the year, especially when it comes to advertising, marketing and retail sales.

But how and why does nostalgia influence consumer choices, behavior and (ultimately) spending, especially during the holiday season?

During this season, marketers and retailers use nostalgia more than at any other time of the year, says Sabrina Helm, a University of Arizona associate professor of retailing and consumer sciences. The holidays are a time when people take a look back at their past, and that can play on consumers' emotions, Helm says.

"We like remembering the past," Helm says. "Everyone has that innate impression that the past was better than today. That’s interesting to consider because not everything that we experience is positive. But looking backward, we see it (the past) in a more positive light."

In particular, family traditions stick in consumers’ minds. If those can be represented by a brand and brought to consumers’ attention, then there is a positive association with the brand, Helm says.

But why does the past always seem better than it was?

Helm says it’s because we are hardwired to think about our self-esteem and our positive self-image. In doing so, we tend to remember the good things that have happened to us and to block out negative experiences because that helps us create a positive image of ourselves. So a brand we encountered as a child or when we were just starting out in life might be viewed more positively, she says.

Anita Bhappu, UA associate professor of retailing and consumer sciences, says nostalgia takes us back to a place or connects us to something that is familar and was commonly experienced.

"Nostalgia provides a sense of safety and a sense of comfort," Bhappu says. "It often connects us with the best memories we have of the past, and in times of uncertainty and existential anxiety, those are important coping mechanisms."

For marketers, nostalgia becomes a tool to highlight a brand in relation to the competition and make a connection to the consumer. 

"For example, when you think of dairy products," Bhappu says, "you always see these pretty pictures of farms and cute animals and this perfect, pristine country living, and the reality of where these products come is very far from that. But it connects us to what we want to believe, and one could argue that it’s an illusion.

"To some degree, what we create in our lives are illusions, but those illusions are important from a psychological standpoint. They help us cope with uncertainty, they help us feel more secure in our choices, and they create an environment that is more comfortable."

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