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Nostalgia marketing and weaponized nostalgia: using our childhood against us

by Gaby Agbulos

EVERYDAY, there seems to be another release of something from our childhood. 

There was the recent release, for example, of the Delta Game Emulator on the iPhone, allowing you to play whatever retro games you can think of: “Pokemon,” “Super Mario,” all of it can be accessed with a simple download. 

There’s also the never-ending list of films from our childhood, to be rebooted both for new and old audiences. Some examples are the upcoming releases of “Karate Kid,” “Jurassic World,” and even the “Chronicles of Narnia.”

Many companies have also started to sell redesigned versions of beloved characters; “Monster High,” “Trolls,” and “My Little Pony” are just some to mention. 

Even in the Philippines, this can be seen with reboots like the “Voltes V: Legacy,” and with releases from the “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” series still going strong, as well as with Jollibee bringing back their beloved Mix & Match combos.

No matter where you go, the nostalgia train just keeps on coming. And why wouldn’t it when it’s been well-documented that nostalgia sells? 

While to you it’s just looking at something and remembering your childhood, to big corporations, it means big, big money.

Nostalgia marketing

The idea of “nostalgia marketing” is something that’s been around for ages. It means taking a certain product, service, or brand, and associating it with memories from your past as a means of creating an emotional and meaningful connection with buyers.

This, thus, can be seen with cultural references and reboots in media, or in reselling or remarketing old products. 

It’s also why, when companies change things that we’ve been familiar with for so long, such as the simplified redesign of brands like Smuckers and PetCo, people often have a negative reaction toward it. 

This is because you’re taking something that people are familiar with and are thus turning it into something unfamiliar and, obviously, a lot of people don’t do very well with change.

As per Ben Lutkevich, the Site Editor of TechTarget, nostalgia marketing works well because nostalgia offers feelings of certainty and reliability, reminding people about the comfort of familiarity.

“Among older adults, nostalgia provides a safe haven in the face of adversity,” a report from Frontiers in Psychology reads.

“Nostalgia augments comfort and security, and maintains psychological well-being when confronted with limited time horizons.”

Even when our nostalgia is brought back in a bad way, such as through a badly written film remake obviously done for cash grabs, companies are still making bank. 

The remake of “The Lion King,” for example, which people disliked because it felt like a “joyless, soulless cash-graband looked more like a nature documentary than the beloved film we all grew up with, still made over 1.6 billion dollars worldwide.

There are, of course, exceptions, to this. Not everything remade has to be bad, as seen with the success of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” in 2023, but this only happens when people truly understand the source material. Unfortunately, not everyone that takes projects like these on does.

All in all, feeling of nostalgia may be nice, but there are others who have taken it and turned it into a means of exploitation. 

The weaponization of childhood

By now, it’s been well-documented that our brains are hardwired to crave nostalgia, as it is a means of staying grounded and finding purpose in life. They trigger emotions that people actively seek out, and represent the idea that things will get better because they’ve been good before.

And right now, with everything going on the world, things are not going good. It reminds us of a better time, and of course we’re going to cling onto the things that used to make us happy, no matter how empty they may actually be.

Nostalgia in certain doses can be good, but there’s also the phenomenon of weaponized nostalgia, wherein it’s used to exploit, manipulate, or twist a person’s beliefs as a means of pushing them into a direction that may not actually be good for society. 

This weaponization isn’t just limited to brands and companies; it extends to politicians and public figures as well. 

To put it simply: there’s no problem with feeling nostalgic. There’s nothing wrong with buying Pokemon plushies, buying collectibles, or seeing a remake of a movie you once watched as a kid. 

It is important, however, to take a look at what exactly you’re being nostalgic for. 

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