Skidmore Studio Logo

Connecting with millennials through nostalgia

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the 1980s are back. Full House, Ghostbusters, My Little Pony—it’s like we’re all on a collective trip down memory lane. We pine for a time that was happier, brighter, simpler, better. And for the late Gen X and early Gen Yers, the 1980s are the sweet spot. As parents, and members of the generation that grew up in the 80s, they simply cannot get enough Legos, Transformers, or Strawberry Shortcake for their own kids.

Buying these toys and watching these shows connects our past to our future. It’s a way to be sure that our kids have the same fun we had, a way to manufacture a shared memory. For the consumer, nostalgia provides a sense of community and continuity, thus providing a greater sense of self-worth. 1  For brands and marketers, it can lead to brand loyalty and profits. In fact, a recent study found consumers are more likely to spend more money after recalling fond childhood memories. 2

The affect of nostalgia is something every marketer and designer should be attuned to.

In order to capture your millennial audience’s attention in the future, it is necessary to draw from the visual language and experiences of their past. Honing in on the memories of our target audience helps us to make stronger, more emotional connections. And with the early Gen Yers covered, it’s time to jump ahead to the next millennial age group—the spenders and parents of tomorrow.

Born in the mid- to late 90s, this millennial group ranges in age from 19 to 24. They’re entering college, possibly heading into the workforce, and are most likely feeling the first pangs of childhood sentimentality. It’s also worth noting that the average age of a millennial mother is 25, and frequent trips down the toy aisle are not far off.

The Snapshot

A quick review of the more prominent childhood trends from 1998-2002 offers insight into what may appeal to these millennials’ newly nostalgic senses.
Blue’s Clues made its premier during this time, and Teletubbies would have been popular too. Monsters, Inc., and Toy Story II, Stuart Little, A Bug’s Life, Shrek, and of course the first of the Harry Potter series ruled the big screen as well as the retail market. Each provided ample toy and promotional tie-ins that would have inundated the youngest millennials’ field of vision.
For more traditional toys, these millennials would have been circling a number of hot sellers in the Christmas toy catalog. Polly Pockets ramped up production and the Bratz dolls were giving girls a new Barbie alternative. Dinosaurs reigned supreme and Lego created an entirely new galaxy with the sci-fi Bionicle series. Additionally, the popularity of fire and police toys such as Rescue Heroes surged after September 11th.

Vtech and LeapFrog educational toys pacified the tech-hungry kids while playing simple games like Snake on a parent’s cell phones or PDA would have been a fun distraction for all. For the budding gamers, a Nintendo Game Cube may have replaced the aging Nintendo 64 in the family entertainment center. Animal Crossing, Super Smash Bros., Super Mario Sunshine, Mario Kart, and Pikmin would have been in heavy rotation, in addition to various Pokemon discs.

The Takeaway

At first glance it may be easy to dismiss these items as contemporary artifacts, hardly worth examining. But to our young millennials, these things were a lifetime ago and hold a special place in their hearts and minds. These movies, toys, and visuals are the beginnings of popular culture for an audience aged 19-24, and that’s not something to dismiss lightly. Spend some time here.

In addition to better understanding the historic landscape, these artifacts help us to better understand our target audience. When it’s time to tug on the heartstrings, you’ll want to be sure you’re speaking the right language. This is especially true on social media where calling back a product or a show from the wrong time period could send your social cred into a tailspin. Don’t let a lack of shared experience get between you and the young millennial mindset. Dig in!