We’re Suffering From Early-Onset Nostalgia and Brands Are Catching On

You’ve seen the lists. “Only 90s Kids Will Remember This,” “These 51 Things Look Like Your Childhood,” “25 Things You Miss If You’re a Product of the 90s.” (And I’ve probably clicked on each one. Miss u orange VHS tapes.)

We’re the generation responsible for “#TBT/Throwback Thursday,” “#FBF/Flashback Friday,” even “Transformation Tuesday.” We’ve developed an obsession with the past; more specifically, our childhoods. And it’s no secret to our favorite brands. It’s “early-onset nostalgia,” and it’s reshaping how huge companies are marketing.

According to Alan R. Hirsch, author of “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,” nostalgia is a yearning or an idealized past- “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory- not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out.”

Alan is saying that we aren’t nostalgic for specific events or tangible items. We’re nostalgic for an emotional state. So why do we seem to ache for our pasts so much that even brands are starting to notice? Because it was “the good ole days.”

In “the good ole days,” I worried about which Lisa Frank folder to use for social studies class. I strategized how to convince my mom to get Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal instead of boring Cheerios. I stressed over whether it would be my brother or me to choose the video from Blockbuster that night.

Now, I worry about how to pay off my student debt while also trying eat. I strategize whether I should have cereal for dinner or if I can splurge on an extravagant $8 meal from Chipotle. I stress over whether it will be the Harvard grad with a Masters in Everything that is fluent in 500 languages to get the job I’m applying for, or me.

Millennials have been coming of age through some serious economic ups and downs. Brands know that I’m yearning for those Lisa Frank-related problems in lieu of my “I literally can’t afford to be an adult” problems.

So Coca-Cola began pushing glass bottles, Kellogg’s dusted off their vintage ad illustrations, McDonald’s resurrected the Hamburglar, and Miller chilled their throwback cans. And it worked (ridiculously) well.

How do you feel about “early-onset nostalgia”? Is this the new key to marketing to millennials? Join the conversation @StarterNoise!

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