Films might tell you something about you, what is it?

This week, we discuss how Hollywood exploits our nostalgia and the potential consequences it might have.

Films might tell you something about you, what is it?
Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante / Unsplash

This week, we discuss how Hollywood exploits our nostalgia and the potential consequences it might have.

Have you purchased tickets for the latest Barbie or Oppenheimer movies? Or have they already sold out? If you've ever questioned why Hollywood continually remakes old films or reintroduces iconic characters like Barbie and Oppenheimer, there's a simple explanation: nostalgia. The entertainment industry understands that modern audiences crave familiar and nostalgic content, resulting in a captivating blend of the past and present which minimizes their risk, and generally a sure shot money maker.

In one of our previous newsletters, we explored how nostalgia is deeply ingrained in our culture. This emotional bond we have with old times can be a powerful tool for not just marketers but also politicians. Nostalgia sells so well because it satisfies our longing for familiarity and comfort, especially when faced with the uncertainties of today's world.

Marketers across various industries are tapping into the power of nostalgia to evoke cherished memories and experiences from our childhood or earlier years. Take McDonald's throwback ad, Coca-Cola bringing back a discontinued flavor in 2022, Adidas with its retro designs, Spotify's Time Capsule Playlist, Netflix rerunning classic shows, and Burger King cleverly utilizing nostalgic marketing tactics. These strategies capitalize on our longing for the past and create an emotional connection with consumers. But why are people willing to pay a premium for products that invoke nostalgia? Traditional economic theories struggle to explain this phenomenon. However, research by a behaviour economist can shed some light on it.

Nostalgia Economy

Nowadays, many of the material goods we buy get their value from the stories attached to them.

- Benjamin Ho, Behaviour Economist

To explain this phenomenon better, Behavioural economist, Benjamin Ho introduces the concept of "appreciation" and "depreciation," commonly used in accounting to describe the increase or decrease in the value of an asset over time. While most physical products typically depreciate with age, certain items, particularly vintage or retro ones, tend to appreciate in value as they evoke nostalgia and sentimental value. Prof. Ho points out that one of the most notable examples of such appreciation is seen in the comic book franchise, where older characters and storylines gain renewed popularity and cultural significance over time.

The impact of nostalgia on consumer behaviour is well-documented in the research conducted by Lasaleta et al. Their comprehensive study titled "Nostalgia Weakens the Desire for Money" (2014) sheds light on the powerful influence of nostalgia on spending behaviour. It reveals that nostalgia increases the willingness of individuals to spend money while simultaneously diminishing the importance of money in their decision-making processes. This creates a unique dynamic in consumer markets, where emotional connections to the past play a critical role in shaping purchasing decisions.

Returning to the Barbie movie, it's bringing back memories for grown-ups who enjoyed playing with Barbie dolls when they were kids. Now that they have money to spend, their nostalgic feelings are influencing what they buy, leading to more sales of Barbie merchandise. Barbie has been culturally important since 1959, and she has changed with the times, reflecting society's ideas about beauty and norms. Barbie is more than just a toy; she represents personal history and growth. People feel deeply connected to her, and that's why they want to buy Barbie products. She's not just a doll; she embodies a lifestyle and brings back cherished memories from their past.

What do our rosy views of the past and nostalgic consumption cost us?

The constant demand for nostalgic products and ideas, driven by Hollywood and advertisers, reflects a larger trend in our culture and economy. Kyla Scanlon, an Economist, discussed this phenomenon in her newsletter. She highlighted how nostalgia and repetition heavily influence storytelling on a large scale but can sometimes lead to a lack of inspiration. This is because brands and consumers prioritize safety and profitability above all else, perpetuating what she calls the "nostalgia loop." But what does this constant supply and demand of nostalgia say about us as consumers?

It might suggest that we are feeling lonely and disconnected, seeking a sense of belonging and connectedness to the past. In our rapidly changing world, we yearn for familiarity and comfort, and nostalgia provides that emotional refuge we crave. This is true across cultures, as Sedikides,, finds.

Our world is dictated by what we consume. And if that’s the past, then well, we are kinda stuck there.

- Kyla Scanlon, Economist

This trend comes with a hidden cost - our ability to imagine for the future. When we constantly dwell on the past, we risk overlooking opportunities for novelty and new experiences. Consider this, have you ever found yourself opting for reruns of your favourite TV show instead of exploring something new? This preference for nostalgia might be driven by a desire to escape from the complexities of the present and seek comfort in familiar memories. However, relying excessively on nostalgic consumption as a coping mechanism can hinder our ability to envision and pursue a different and more promising future. This also means that resources and money might keep going to old ideas instead of supporting new ones.

Nostalgia goes beyond industries; it can also be a powerful tool for behaviour change. Recent research suggests that tapping into nostalgia can encourage individuals to adopt healthier habits and engage in pro-social behaviours like recycling.

There is much we don't yet understand, Is it always beneficial to choose something familiar or nostalgic, or could it hinder our openness to new experiences and ideas? This interplay between nostalgia and modern consumer behaviour is a complex area for research. Understanding why some individuals are more susceptible to nostalgic appeals and how it influences their choices can provide valuable insights. The ethical considerations of using nostalgia as a marketing tool warrant careful examination.

In the words of Marcel Proust, "Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were."

So, the next time you find yourself drawn to nostalgic items or experiences, take a moment to reflect on your attraction. Are these choices truly bringing you joy and holding sentimental value, or are you merely seeking solace in the familiar? Be mindful of how nostalgia weaves its intricate threads into your life, shaping your decisions and perceptions of the present.

The newsletter this week has been written by Farheen. Edited by Aurko.