Typically, our “Brand Crush” series spotlights standout companies that are thinking outside of the box and using innovative strategies to connect with consumers—particularly through events and experiential activations. But this season, our crush isn’t as much on one particular brand as it is on a concept: nostalgia.
Sure, leaning on nostalgia at events and brand activations isn’t exactly new—but it’s a trend we’re seeing (and loving!) more than ever these days. Nostalgia is a universal emotion that transcends age, culture, and time, invoking feelings of warmth, comfort, and fondness for simpler times—and therefore creating a much-needed escape from the stresses of everyday life.
For event organizers, tapping into nostalgia can be a powerful way to foster connections, drive engagement, and create lasting memories. Here are five reasons why we’re crushing on the concept right now.
1. There’s nothing like the comfort of familiarity.
When consumers or event guests encounter familiar sights, sounds, and experiences from their past, it can bring a sense of comfort and happiness—which can be a welcome reprieve from the constant barrage of newness and change in today's fast-paced world. One trend we’re seeing everywhere: Retro diners, which we’ve spotted recently from brands like ABC, Chanel, and others.
Familiarity can also come in the form of music. Look to a brand like Spotify, which has capitalized on the power of nostalgia with things like #ThrowbackThursday playlists or personalized recommendations from users’ teen years. In a 2018 survey, in fact, the brand found that music is the number-one trigger for nostalgia. Another fun finding from the same survey? Three in four people told Spotify they have more trust in brands and products that feel nostalgic to them, due to a feeling of authenticity and shared understanding
2. Nostalgia can create emotional connections with brands.
In addition to generating deeper trust, events and brands that lean into shared cultural touchpoints from the past can trigger powerful emotions, such as joy, sentimentality, and even tears of happiness. As Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When attendees associate brands or events with these emotional moments, they are more likely to remember them and engage in the future.
Just look at the buzz surrounding the Barbie movie this summer, with countless brands hopping on board with their own Barbie-inspired moments that evoked childhood memories. A fun one came from Walmart, which hosted its roving “Summer Rewind” experience, transporting shoppers back to their childhoods via a “playground for grownups” with Barbie-inspired photo ops, a giant Lite Brite, and other nostalgia-inducing moments that made guests laugh and reminisce—and, most likely, have more positive associations with Walmart moving forward.
3. It can foster a sense of belonging.
Live events are often a temporary escape from the rigors of daily life, and attendees look for opportunities to connect with others who share their interests and passions. Nostalgia, by invoking shared memories and cultural references, can create that sense of belonging among attendees. When people see others reminiscing about the same past moments—whether it’s singing along to a beloved old song or reminiscing about a favorite movie or pastime—they immediately feel a sense of camaraderie, which helps them foster lasting connections and engage with the event on a more personal level.
For the millennials, a fun one recently came from Freeform to promote its Cruel Summer TV show. The Y2K-inspired event showcased old-school music videos and news clips and even featured beloved ‘90s celebrities like NSYNC’s Lance Bass and 90210’s Tori Spelling walking the carpet.
4. It drives conversation both on and offline.
Along those same lines, nostalgia naturally prompts conversations and social sharing. People love discussing old memories, comparing experiences, and sharing stories from the past. This drives engagement both in person at events and online on social media platforms.
Think about the buzz Netflix’s Stranger Things-related campaigns have generated with their throwback ‘80s fashion, or even Gen Z’s interest in all-things-’90s. Ironically, reminiscing about those pre-cell phone days is a great way to get guests turning to their phones to share.
5. It can lead to some pretty fun and shareable decor and activities.
Incorporating nostalgic elements, such as retro-themed decor, classic video game arcades, or vintage fashion shows, adds an extra layer of excitement and engagement. Plus, it’s just plain fun! At Coachella this past year, for example, American Express drew eyes with a colorful Y2K-inspired experience (complete with vintage cameras!), while OREO made a splash in 2022 by taking over the last Blockbuster location and filling it with clever cookie-inspired details. Nostalgia is fun—and event decor can and should reflect that!