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Why The Time To Bet On Nostalgia Is Now

Photo of Karol Severin
by Karol Severin

Nintendo has captured the headlines over the past week with regards to bringing back its SNES consoles.

Nintendo is not the only one betting on nostalgia. Within and outside of games, many companies have made similar nostalgia-­infused plays. Think Pokemon Go, Super Mario Run, Nintendo NES and SNES, SEGA’s retro games, Nokia 3310, all the way to vinyl record sales.

The Irrational Rationale ­‐ Why Nostalgia Works Better Today Than Ever

There has never been a better time to bet on nostalgia in consumer tech and entertainment. We are in an entertainment era where access is gaining importance over ownership. This is a very significant shift in terms of how consumers approach and think about consumption. Consumption habits are changing much faster than in previous generations. This also means that nostalgia about no longer available products kicks in faster.

Furthermore, the intensity of this change plays a role. While innovation in the analogue era typically involved a gradual improvement of consumers’ lives, the birth of the digital era brought a much more drastic change in how people go about their lives generally. It is this drastic jump that reinforces consumers’ belief, that ‘the times, they are a-changing’.

Consumers adopting new products have played as much of a key role in this shift as the companies which offer them. But the grass is always greener on the other side. There is a clear consumer narrative of ‘we are moving too fast’ developing. Reminiscing about the ‘old days’ and comparing them to the world of today adds strength to the power of consumer nostalgia. Companies are noticing this and rightly so, they play right to it.

Nostalgia Can Boost Sales, But Sustainability Is An Issue

Bets on nostalgia are often likely to have the lifecycle of a gimmick proposition. Re-­launching a product that has once been popular is a sure way to capture the attention of the media. Once the word gets out, consumers further reinforce the hype by sharing nostalgic posts among their peers in a build up to the launch.

However, note that when consumers buy the likes of Nintendo SNES, they are not really paying $80 for a console. Rather, they are paying for bringing back memories and feelings that they haven’t experienced in a long time. Most of these are delivered as soon as consumers plug in for the first time. However, after the first few sessions, these feelings have been brought back and therefore are no longer missed as much. This is when the power of nostalgia starts to diminish. It goes all the way to the point where a product bought due to a nostalgic impulse simply becomes ‘just another product we own’. At that point, consumers will inherently start drawing more tangible value comparisons with contemporary products. And that’s when nostalgic products risk losing hype and engagement the most.

Milk Nostalgia While You Can

Arguably, this retro product hype won’t last forever. Companies are currently capitalizing on the generation that experienced a major sudden change in consumption within their lifetime, therefore, it is very easy to summon nostalgic feelings. This is because the current core consumption population is the only generation that has had a fully‐fledged experience with both the analogue and the digital era.

However, the next generation of consumers will have grown up without any reference to the analogue era whatsoever. Therefore, it will be much harder to spark nostalgia with the next generation, in the digital entertainment sense. The retro hype may re­‐occur again, but not until the next ‘big change’ takes place. (e.g. AR and haptics or Human Body digital enhancement replacing the smartphone world). So, if you are thinking about a nostalgia­infused play – the time is now.

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