Illustration for an article on how brands are using nostalgia to connect with audiences

The nostalgia machine: How brands are capitalizing on our past

Looking to connect with your audience?

Bringing back a story they previously loved is a good bet.

For proof, look no further than the sheer number of brands who are capitalizing on our desire to re-live experiences we enjoyed in our childhoods.

Everywhere you look these days, brands are bringing back old TV shows, video games, music and comic book characters.

The reason is simple: Nostalgia works.

The kids who grew up on a steady diet of Nintendo, comic books and Gilmore Girls have become adults with full bank accounts, (often) soul-deadening jobs from which they need an escape and kids they need to “educate”.

Here are four ways that brands have successfully used nostalgia to connect with their audiences.

Avengers: End Game

You can’t go back to the past.

But you can re-imagine it in a new form.

That’s what the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the seemingly endless line of super hero movies that annually parade through movie release schedules, is based on: Taking characters we first learned about on the comic book page and re-inventing them in a new form.

Marvel has re-created nearly every comic book character you can imagine, from Ant-Man to Zzzax.

The result? Audiences keep coming back for more. And they’re bringing their wallets with them.

Seven Marvel Cinematic Universe films have earned more than $1 billion at the box office, making them some of the highest-grossing movies in box office history.

Super Mario Odyssey

We all know Super Mario, right? The side-scrolling Italian plumber who for decades has been synonymous with the Nintendo brand?

Well, he’s still alive and kicking.

In October 2017, Nintendo released the latest entry in the Mario series. Super Mario Odyssey, created for the Nintendo Switch, has re-invigorated the Mario franchise with a newfound look at the world-famous character.

It’s just one of the ways Nintendo is trading on nostalgia to not only remain relevant, but to thrive in the 21stcentury.

Other characters – from Yoshi to Zelda to the world-famous Pokémon – are all making return appearances to Nintendo’s latest flagship console.

But perhaps most notable of all is the subtle means Nintendo is using for reminding people of the past.

Another title, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, does everything from create courses based on the original Game Boy screen to offering users a brief history lesson on some of its characters while waiting for the game to load.

Backstreet Boys reunion tour

Backstreet’s back.

Well, actually, they never really left.

Decades on from their original rise to prominence in the 1990s, the Backstreet Boys are still going strong.

Their latest tour will take them around the world, from Spain to the United Kingdom and North America.

Parents who bought the album as tweens or teens can now even take advantage of a “VIP hotel experience” to see the (former?) heartthrobs in-person. Cue “I want it that way”.

Full House

Before Bob Saget was the purveyor of filthy jokes and Lori Loughlin was at the centre of a major college admissions scandal, the two starred in the wholesome TV situation comedy Full House.

Every week kids across North America would tune in to see what Joey Gladstone was cutting out or how D.J. Tanner and her sister Stephanie were getting along.

Considering how long it’s been since the show was popular is enough to make anyone fully realize how irreversible the onward march of time is. The Olsen twins are in their 30s now.

But thankfully, a recreated Full House – called “Fuller House” – is here to salve the unhealable wounds eternity has inflicted upon us.

Netflix rebooted the show, which features most of the original cast, in 2016.

And Full House isn’t the only one.

Netflix has also given reboots to the Gilmore Girls, Arrested Development, Queer Eye and Will & Grace.


Nostalgia conjures powerful feelings from our formative years. Brands around the world are using it to connect with their audiences. How will you use it to engage yours?

Mark Brownlee is a digital marketing strategist in Ottawa, Canada.

Illustration by Erin Watson

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