The Power Of The Past: Boomers Catch Nostalgia Fever

06/29/2015 08:06 am ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016

Do you remember watching the original airing of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver, or I Love Lucy? If you're nodding your head, smiling, and wistfully thinking back on the playful charm of these television shows from the 1950s and 1960s, you're probably like many boomers who wax nostalgic about an earlier time, when life was simpler, more streamlined, and less dependent on the Internet for everything.

Many boomers have been bitten by the nostalgia bug. In response, many marketers are using nostalgia to sell everything from whiskey to perfume and cars to sneakers. Let's take a closer look at the concept of nostalgia, and learn how the power of the past can spell good business in the present.

The word "nostalgia" has Greek roots.
Nostalgia is believed to have been derived from Homer's The Odyssey (about 675-725 BCE). The word was created by combining the Greek words for "homecoming" and "pain, ache."

In its modern usage, nostalgia is defined as "pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again." Today, the word has gained tremendous popularity. In fact, nostalgia landed on Merriam-Webster's 2014 Words of the Year list.

Nostalgia is a domain of the brain.
In the realm of psychoanalysis, nostalgia is a longing to return to an idealized past, specifically a scrubbed narrative of the past. This is known as a screen memory, a mash-up of entangled memories minus negative emotions.

When you hear, smell, or taste something that takes you back to the past, you're experiencing screen memories, according to an article entitled "The Nature of Nostalgia." Of the five senses, smell is closely linked to a part of the brain that processes emotions, called the olfactory bulb, which is a component of the limbic system, the brain's emotional hub. So, when you catch a whiff of a gardenia, you may think back to your prom night when your prom date presented you with a gardenia corsage--the sweet scent of nasal nostalgia.

Hard times can foster nostalgia.
During tough economic times, people tend to view the past through rose-colored glasses, according to a Euromonitor International industry report. A shaky economy or an uncertain political environment can stoke the fire of nostalgia, as people are apt to hold on to something familiar and makes them feel good.

Retro brands are staging a comeback.
Consumers often seek products and services that help them reanimate the warm and fuzzy feelings that they felt during happier days. These retro brands are repurposed versions of brands from a prior era.

To market retro brands, companies frequently use nostalgia with the intent of triggering an emotional response from the consumer. This practice is known as retro marketing, also known as flashback branding. According to an article entitled "Nostalgia Products: Making a Tasty Comeback," advertisers add a "mix of retro-cool to their advertising campaigns."

Take Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer 9. Microsoft blasted consumers back to the past in a video titled "Child of the '90s." The video featured fad products like the yoyo, troll doll, fanny pack, pumpable sneaker, and Hungry Hungry Hippos. When the video went viral, both Microsoft and Microsoft Windows enjoyed a boost in their brand power, according to Adweek.

Boomer brands sing a nostalgic tune.
In an earlier blog post entitled "Here Comes the Boom: 15 Things You Should Know About the Next Wave of Seniors," boomer brands were presented, including Harley-Davidson, Volkswagen, Noxzema, the Beatles, Pepsi, Absolut Vodka, Saturday Night Live, Facebook, Coach, Levi's, Club Med, L'eggs, Frye Boots, and Clairol.

Consider the Beatles. To grab baby boomer eyeballs and ears, Beatles' songs have cropped up in a variety of advertising campaigns. For example, in 1987, Nike launched Nike Air Max with a commercial featuring tennis sensation John McEnroe, basketball great Michael Jordan, and The Fab Four's song "Revolution."

The fashion industry recycles retro.
Fashion trends are historically cyclical. According to an article in Vogue, fashion designers, including Tom Ford, Prada, Pucci, and Gucci, have revived retro-style garments from the 1970s for their spring/summer 2015 collections. So, if you stored away your crop tops, fringed suede jackets, paisley shirts, go-go boots, and bell-bottoms, it's time to bring them out of mothballs.

But an outfit isn't complete without accessories, including jewelry. Jewelry designer Deborah Porterfield of A Touch of Class Jewelers explains that jewelry trends evolve too. "During the '70s, we saw layered chains, leather wristbands, bulky jewelry, long earrings, and the peace sign used in everything from earrings to bracelets to rings. It's a trend in jewelry we're seeing again today." Porterfield compared ever-changing fashion trends to "a revolving door."

Dead celebrities are brought back to life to pitch products.
Audrey Hepburn makes a virtual appearance in a Galaxy Chocolate commercial. Gene Kelly raps and break dances to a club mix of "Singin' in the Rain" in a VW Gold GTI spot. Bruce Lee makes his CGI debut in a Johnnie Walker Blue Label ad. Marilyn Monroe co-stars with Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, and a very alive Charlize Theron in a splashy fragrance commercial for J'Adore by Dior.

Whether you like or dislike the practice of bringing a celebrity back from the dead to pitch products, this creative strategy can strike a chord with baby boomers. According to a Time's article entitled "Digital Necromancy: Advertising with Reanimated Celebrities," the use of "delebs" in ads is driven by nostalgic baby boomers.

You'll probably be able to find updated versions of once-popular products from the good old days as long as nostalgia resonates with consumers. After all, the almost defunct Hostess Twinkie was partly saved by what else: public nostalgia.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

7 Hot Travel Trends For Boomers