The Latest Neuromarketing Insights

Increase Future Sales By Making Customers Think About The Past

Relevant topics Archive, Advertising

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Nostalgic feelings can be used to get people to choose either majority-endorsed or individuality- focused options.
  • Application:
    Induce nostalgic feelings in your target audience and then choose either a majority-endorsed or an individuality-focused approach to get people to choose you or your product.
  • Imagine walking through the electronics store looking for a new coffee machine. Suddenly you hear a familiar melody echoing through the shopping corridors. It happens to be that one song you played over and over again back in high school. Overwhelmed by nostalgic feelings, you continue your search for that coffee machine and you notice two offers. One is the store's #1 best-selling coffee machine, while the other is a limited edition machine with unique features. What do you do? Will those nostalgic feelings affect your choice? 

    A new neuromarketing insight suggests that nostalgia undoubtedly affects the choices we make by influencing our tendency to either conform to or deviate from the group, which is moderated by the existing social ties between the consumer and others.

    Are you curious to know which coffee machine you would prefer? Keep on reading! 

    A lovely weekend in Belgium

    When was the last time you were feeling nostalgic? For me, it was when I met up with two friends, with whom I went on a football trip to Belgium a few years back. We've attended two matches and had plans to attend a third. However, our trip took place during the Gentse Feesten, a week-long city-wide celebration in Ghent (Absolute recommendation by the way). The festivities on Saturday sadly 'prevented' us from attending the last match on Sunday, but the weekend was great nevertheless.

    A few weeks ago, I met up with the same two friends for a drink after not seeing each other for quite some time. It was not surprising that our football trip was soon the topic of conversation. Memories were exchanged, jokes were made and soon we were all feeling nostalgic. At that time, one of my friends suggested going to Japan for a trip. It didn't take long for us all to agree.

    Nostalgic feelings can make people willing to conform and to stand out

    During this meeting with my old friends, the nostalgia that resulted from recalling an earlier experience influenced us to embark on a new experience together. The same effect was the focus of a study by Fan, Jiang and Hu. What they found was that nostalgia can heighten people's tendency towards social conformity as well as lessen people's desire towards being distinct from others. In other words, when feeling nostalgic, people tend to be more willing to conform and less willing to stand out. That means that when feeling nostalgic, people tend to be more willing to buy majority-endorsed products.

    In a series of experiments, the researchers induced nostalgic feelings in their test subjects and then tested their desire to buy certain products that were either popular or not. They found that consumers who were induced with nostalgic feelings tended to be more inclined towards choosing popular products. This effect was consistent across four experiments.

    The researchers also found the strength of existing social ties that individuals might have with the members of his or her group to be a mediating factor. When those social ties are weak, people are inclined towards improving them when nostalgic feelings arise. However, when social ties are already strong, people will be more inclined towards preserving their individuality. It seems like there is a certain optimal 'score' of how strong we want our social ties to be. If the strength of social ties has not yet reached this point, we are inclined towards reaching it. However, as soon as this has been achieved, any efforts to further increase the strength of social ties beyond this optimal score will feel like 'too much' and therefore spark a desire to stand out.

    Using nostalgic feelings to enhance your sales

    These findings suggest that nostalgic feelings can be used to get people to buy majority-endorsed products. It can also be used to make people want to buy products that enhance their uniqueness. As noted above, a key factor in this is the strength of existing social ties. When nostalgic feelings are induced, the strength of the existing social ties a person has with the group influences whether this person will be more inclined towards or conforming or standing out.

    In the example in the first paragraph, I hadn't seen my friends for quite some time and therefore the social ties were not as strong as they were in the past. This influenced us all to agree to a trip to Japan. Had we met up more often, the idea of going to Japan might have encountered more doubt and hesitance. It is therefore important to keep the existing strength of social ties in mind when using this finding.

    There are several examples that come to mind regarding the use of nostalgia in branding or advertising. For example, this ad by Microsoft clearly uses memories of growing up in the nineties to position Microsoft Edge as a browser for the future. This particular ad might have been enhanced by showing other nineties kids using Edge. ‘Nineties kids’ is a very broad demographic and social ties among them are probably not very strong, simply because not all nineties kids know each other. The ensuing nostalgic feelings might prompt nineties kids who view the ad to download and use Edge in an attempt to conform to the group of nineties kids. Had it been another group with stronger social ties, then Microsoft could have highlighted the different ways to customize Edge to your own liking to appeal to the desire for increased individuality.

    Choosing either a conformity-focused or an individuality-focused branding

    If you could get some indication of how strong the social ties within your target audience are, you could use these findings to optimize your branding towards increasing sales. You can also select a more product-based approach, which would be ideal if you want to market only one product or if you have multiple products that greatly differ from one another.

    Either way, when using nostalgia as part of a marketing strategy, make sure to get an indication of the strength of social ties within your target audience. Once you have an estimation, present your product(s) or your company as a great fit for either the individual or the majority. If the social ties within your target audience are strong, use a majority-focused branding-approach to make people more inclined towards choosing you or your product over others. If social ties are strong, present yourself or your product as an option that will make an individual stand out.


    − When people's existing social ties with others are weak, inducing nostalgia can lead to a heightened desire towards conforming. This can lead to them becoming more inclined to choose majority-endorsed options.
    − When those existing social ties are strong, inducing nostalgia can lead to a heightened desire towards standing out from others in the group. This can lead people to become more inclined towards choosing options that emphasize their individuality.
    − Getting an indication of the strength of these social ties is therefore critical before using these findings.

  • Increase Future Sales By Making Customers Think About The Past
  • Reference:

    Fan, Y., Jiang, J., & Hu, Z. Abandoning distinctiveness: The influence of nostalgia on consumer choice. Psychology & Marketing. https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.21370


    Further Reading

    • Words With Warmth and More: The ‘In-out Effect’ in (Service) Marketing

      Words With Warmth and More: The ‘In-out Effect’ in (Service) Marketing

      Did you know there's a hidden route to consumer preference? A recent study has demonstrated that even the most subtle features of a brand name, such as the mere pronounceability of words, affect consumer attitudes. By choosing a favorable brand name, consumers' attitudes towards your product or brand might improve. But how to come up with such a brand name? 

      Every word requires specific movements of the lip, tongue, and throat muscles. Changing any movement can distort the whole name. For example, try articulating ''L'' without moving your tongue. Pointless! Movements on specific locations within the mouth are necessary to articulate consonants. Some consonants are pronounced in the back of the mouth, some in the middle, and some at the front, resulting in either inward-wandering or outward-wandering words. Research has now demonstrated that this direction of the movements in articulating consecutive consonants has a considerable impact on consumer preference. Also called the 'in-out effect'. 

      Do you want to know more about the in-out effect and how to come up with a favorable brand name? Continue reading! 


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