News & Insights

I believe in yesterday: Why nostalgia keeps coming back

Every day on Spotify we see people pressing play to Turn Back Time. Playlists like #ThrowbackThursday and the personalized experience Your Time Capsule hit it big with users, earning over 1.6M followers and over half a billion streams respectively.1 In fact, after Your Time Capsule was released, we had an outpouring of love and appreciation for our ability to help fans discover personalized music recommendations, like this Twitter marriage proposal:

“Spotify and I have a long love affair, but this Time Capsule playlist takes it to another level… Marry me, @spotify? #allthefeels.”

So, what is it about songs from our past that really strike a chord with our fans? We conducted new research to uncover why songs get us remembering and why brands should pay attention to the relationship between nostalgia and music to build trust.

The familiarity of nostalgia is often a welcome break from modern-day stresses like constant connectivity and news alerts that can leave us feeling uncertain, or like we’re always catching up. There’s a comfort in thinking of a time before inbox zero became an unattainable goal plaguing our workdays.

Remembering these times gone by brings about a strong emotional reaction with measurable positive benefits. Almost 70% of the people we surveyed told us that feelings of nostalgia can help to change or improve their mood, while three in four told us that nostalgia connects people, thanks to shared experiences and memories.

Music is the #1 trigger for nostalgia

The good vibes that accompany strolling down memory lane cause people not only to welcome spontaneous nostalgic moments, but also to actively seek out nostalgia. Those surveyed told us that music is the #1 trigger for nostalgia, and they often turn to songs from their past to remind them of specific times in their life.

Experts agree. Marisa M. Silveri, PhD, Director of the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health at McLean Hospital, explains: “According to available neuroscience research, music has been shown to elicit strong emotions relative to other types of stimuli (i.e., visual, tactile). Emotion-based memories, such as those linked with music, also have been reported to be more deeply ingrained than non-emotion-based memories. Thus, music has a significant impact on the complexity and the storage of our memories.”

The connection between music and memory makes sense when you take into account its ongoing presence in pivotal personal moments — for example, your first school dance, or the soundtrack to your family road trip. And at an even more macro level, music plays a definitive role in larger shared cultural moments: think about pop hits from the 80s, the protest songs of the Vietnam War, or even the holiday classics we listen to season after season. These songs remain popular because of a time period in history or in our personal lives, and the deep-seated nostalgic feelings they trigger.

The soundtrack of our lives

On Spotify, we’ve seen that people feel most nostalgic for songs that were popular or released in their mid- to late-teenage years.2 After that age, they stop listening to the music of “the time” and continue to listen to the music of “their time” — i.e. the music they listened to as a teenager.

How do brands get on the memory train?
Brands should take note of how music connects people to their past, because nostalgia can play an unexpected role in creating authentic connections with your audience. Three in four people told us they tend to have more trust in brands and products that feel nostalgic to them. Throwing back is a great opportunity for brands to create a meaningful connection with their audience.

  • 70%

    remember brands and products.

    7 in 10 people say they will always remember brands and products that were part of the most important stages of their life.

Don’t fake it.
Only start a nostalgic conversation if your brand has a place in it. Brands with a long history or that spark adventurous feelings of childhood or adolescence can play a prime role in this space. It’s important that even nostalgic brands use the emotion sparingly to avoid feeling outdated or out of touch. People want to be reminded of the past, not surrounded by it.

Keep it — somewhat — fresh.
Make sure you fuse old and new to provide a fresh perspective rather than an imitation — like this GAP campaign, the “Archive Reissue - Logo Remix,” that reimagines the iconic GAP logo 50 years later. Music also plays a huge role in the campaign, with artists like Metro Boomin and SZA remixing old hits like “Hold Me Now” with a fresh beat to stay relevant and current.

  • 60%

    are more likely to engage.

    6 in 10 people are more likely to engage with an ad when it feels nostalgic and reminds them of past memories.

Get your creative toolbox out.
Use as many sensory triggers as possible to evoke emotion. All of our senses can trigger memories, and telling your brand’s story through sight, sound, and motion are ways to evoke #allthefeels. And remember: Music is a key trigger for nostalgia, so use the soundtrack of your ad to throwback to times gone by.

Play to your assets.
When the Oreo cookie turned 100, Nabisco used nostalgia in two distinct ways. First, they called to mind childlike moments in everyday life to “celebrate the kid inside,” like recess during the workday. They also designed print ads that highlighted key cultural milestones throughout the century, like the invention of the yo-yo, to bring up nostalgic memories.

Keep your history alive.
Johnnie Walker took a different approach to celebrate the 110th anniversary of their iconic Striding Man, by leaning on the connection between whiskey drinkers and music. They created a musical time travel experience where users discovered what they would have listened to back in another era with personalized playlists. This creative execution captured imagination by using Johnnie Walker’s actual advertising from key time periods in its 110-year history alongside the playlists.

  • 75%

    believe in nostalgia's power.

    Three out of four people believe nostalgia connects people, thanks to shared experiences and memories.

Use nostalgia to help consumers find their tribe.
Tap into the shared nostalgia of musical moments throughout the year and in history. Nostalgia is a great way to create community for users centered around your brand. For example, millennials who are surrounded by tech often look back to their school years, a time before they Instagrammed everything they ate, as a source of calm and simplicity. Tapping into a time period that makes sense for your brand’s audience can foster a community around your product or brand. Learn more about marketing to millennials.

Let your message shine.
This Microsoft Internet Explorer ad calls to shared experiences for children of the 90s. It shows some key trends and fads that have come and gone — Tamagotchi, anyone? — but that everyone who grew up in that era can remember. The brand then applied the nostalgic feelings of the 90s to a safe and secure web browser that their audience could use in present day. Take a look.

Source: Spotify partnered with Audience Theory for the qualitative component of the research, conducting experts interviews and focus groups in US, UK PH and BR. Surveys were conducted with Spotify users 18-44, in March 2018, for the quantitative analysis. Spotify Qualitative Research with Audience Theory Quantitative Research with Equation Research. Survey conducted among 2078 Spotify users 18-44 in US (n=526), UK (n=509), PH (n=511) and BR (n=532) in March 2018 1, 2 Spotify First Party Data, Global 2018

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