1990’s Nostalgia Rising: The Millennial Connection

Posted by John Gilboy on January 29, 2015


The fashion (think crop tops + overalls) has reappeared at retail. The music (think NKOTB + Backstreet Boys) has returned with large-scale tours. The hit TV shows (think Boy Meets World) have been updated with original stars (now Girl Meets World). There are listicles offering reminders of the decade’s best pop culture. The 1990’s are back!

The events of the 1990’s – including the emergence of digital technology and the movement toward multiculturalism – shaped the sentiment, perspective and preferences of today’s highly influential and coveted Millennial population.

Interestingly, the biggest and most diverse generation in history has demonstrated what may be considered a case of early onset nostalgia for its (not too distant) wonder years. Gen Y’s affinity for reaching back to the past (think #TBTs) corresponds with their most notable characteristic: documenting life’s “pose + post” experiences through a constant stream of social content.

Early Onset NostalgiaParents + Providers

From products to pop culture, brand marketers are leveraging Gen Y’s heart for their formative years to foster deeper connections. Appealing to grown-up 90’s kids, General Mills recently reintroduced the popular (but discontinued) French Toast Crunch cereal. The move was a response to trending online conversations and a series of dedicated Facebook groups (Gen Y makes their voice heard again!) and resulted in a spike in positive social engagement and media coverage for the brand.

Recognizing a significant life stage shift for Gen Y (many are now parents), brands are tapping 90’s nostalgia to reach those making purchase decisions for their own Gen Z kids. In 1991, Hasbro introduced Puppy Surprise, a dog toy that came with either three, four or five puppies. The brand’s new parent, Just Play, brought the toy back in 2014 and fueled advance buzz by offering it to bloggers and various influencers (many who played with it as kids). Even retailers were surprised by the crush for demand, causing the brand to actually pull TV advertising as it moved to get more product on shelves.

What it means + what to think about

Nostalgia can serve as a powerful tool for marketers. Recent clinical research has demonstrated the positive effects of nostalgia – counteracting loneliness, boredom and anxiety. Reflecting on happy memories makes people feel good about the future and offers a stronger sense of social connectivity.

While utilizing nostalgia cues and triggers for communications engagement is not entirely novel, it has emerged as a significant channel to effectively reach and influence Gen Y. Perhaps even more than prior generations, Millennials tend to attach greater emotional equity to the culture that defined their youth (80% still like to watch movies and shows that came out when they were kids).

Topics: Consumer Insights