Why Looking Back Has Helped Us Cope With Lockdown

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Whether it’s the #MeAt20 challenge, the popularity of ITV’s early noughties throwback drama Quiz, or the outpouring of positive emotion around VE Day, over the past eleven weeks nostalgia is undergoing something of a boom as we have all struggled with illness, boredom, uncertainty and fear during lockdown.

Nostalgia marketing has been growing in prominence over the past few years, with many brands seeing it as a shortcut to success when it comes to tapping into consumers’ emotions.

Pre COVID-19, cultural trends suggested that nostalgia was already capturing the public’s imagination with the likes of Spotify’s ‘Listen Like You Used To’ campaign and Netflix’s clutch of 1980s content, including Bandersnatch, Glow and Stranger Things.

Last November the7stars joined forces with YouGov to explore the growing appeal of reminiscence marketing and we set our findings in a  white paper entitled “Nostalgia – “Is it what it used to be?”

Given this period of lockdown and the resulting uncertain political and economic climate, we decided to repeat our research into nostalgia to examine its role in providing some of the comfort, security and trust that Brits have been seeking.

Here are four insights we uncovered:

The rise of neo nostalgia

One of our key findings this time around is the rise of neo nostalgia – feelings of fondness for a period of time that is much more recent than nostalgia has traditionally been associated with.

 In our research last year, we were talking about nostalgia in terms of the 1950s or 60s or the 70s. When we conducted nostalgia research during lockdown, we found that when consumers feel nostalgic it’s for a period as recent as early 2020. We found that while one in three Brits agree they feel most nostalgic for a time within the past 12 months, one in ten admit their nostalgia is for a time earlier this year! In terms of age demographics, younger age groups are more likely to experience neo nostalgia with 26% of 18-34s feeling nostalgic for a period earlier this year compared to 13% of 35-44s and 4% of 45s- 54s.

What this reveals is that nostalgia is no longer confined to what is old. Instead, Brits are yearning for what’s come before.

Activities overtake music as key nostalgia triggers

Our research last year found that music was a key nostalgia trigger for Brits with one in five recalling an artist or band when looking back at a decade.

In this wave of research, a much wider variety of cues is making Britain nostalgic, some passive and some more active. Baking is currently the top trigger of nostalgia making 43% of Brits feel fondly towards the past, while 41% find listening to old music transports them back, 37% watch old TV shows and 33% said looking at old photos gets them sentimental.

What this suggests is that nostalgia and nostalgia triggering activities meet a need for escapism by providing some light relief amid the abundance of negative news that we’ve been getting.

Nostalgia has played a key role to play in helping people cope with lockdown

Our survey revealed that nostalgia has played a really important role for Brits emotionally during this time, with 44% reporting that looking back in time makes them feel happy, 41% finding it comforting, 32% saying nostalgia makes them feel grateful while 31% find it relaxing. According to Dr Tim Wildschut, University Professor of Social and Personality Psychology at Southampton University, the fact that we are turning to nostalgia during lockdown isn’t surprising: “Nostalgia compensates for uncomfortable states, for example, when people experience feelings of meaninglessness or a discontinuity between past and present.”

People would rather go back than forwards in time

Even now with the UK moving out of the first stage of lock down and some restrictions being lifted, the majority of British adults would still rather go backwards in time as opposed to forward. In our survey, 49 percent said if time travel was possible, they’d rather go backwards. These findings suggest that lockdown has really cemented people’s feelings of nostalgia, as opposed to them being focused on the future, because the future is so uncertain.

That said, 18-34s are most likely to want to go forward in time – 40% said they would rather travel to the future than to the past, perhaps reflecting that they feel lockdown has interrupted their ability to move ahead with their lives.

So, what does the role of nostalgia on lockdown mean for brands?

While lockdown has presented some uniquely difficult challenges for brands, our nostalgia research provides some interesting insights into how brands can support consumers as lockdown starts to loosen. These include:

Capitalise on brand equity

Building on what your brand and products are already known and appreciated for through the reassuring confirmation of tropes and familiar assets, is a potent way to connect to audiences in uncertain times. This is supported by analysis from System 1 which showed that ads which either reference or are set in the past are connecting better with consumers than those set in the present. A good example here is the way in which Budweiser has revamped their classic ‘Whassup?’ campaign for these quarantine times.

Help people face the future with confidence

It’s clear from our research that people aren’t feeling confident about the future. Brands should think about how they can add the most value to consumers as lockdown eases and retail restrictions are lifted.  There is a huge opportunity for brands to help consumers navigate the new normal, whether that’s safely enabling more real world experiences or entertaining people in need of light relief (perhaps by embracing classic entertainment formats from yesteryear).

Post lockdown, there is a role for brands to offer a familiar, consistent face to consumers as they prepare for an uncertain future.

Fuse an analogue aesthetic with digital distribution

There are plenty of opportunities to tap into the stories of a resurgent past, but digital still has a huge role to play in how this content is distributed at scale. Instagram and Pinterest deliver nostalgic inspiration in spades, while Baking Twitter has never been stronger. Listen to the social media conversations happening right now and take inspiration for how your brand might be able to join in or put a spotlight on (re) emerging communities of interest that help retain optimism for the future.


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