Selling the past: How Walmart took their marketing game to the next level

November 6, 2023

Just a few days ago, Walmart released their Black Friday campaign and caused a serious stir in the world of advertising. With the holidays just around the corner, marketers worldwide are heavily relying on consumers’ emotions to promote new products and tempting deals. And with the everyday trivialities of gloomy November, what better way to evoke a positive emotion among your audience than throwing it back to simpler times? This marketing trend has been on the rise for a while and it requires just one key ingredient – nostalgia. If you are curious to know what nostalgia marketing is and steal some useful tips from the best players in the game to boost engagement rates this season – read on, we’ve gathered
some exciting ideas for you.

What is nostalgia marketing?

Nowadays, when consumers are surrounded by an endless count of choices, nostalgia marketing is a shortcut to distinguishing your brand from your competitors. Essentially, it boils down to using symbolic representations of the past that ‘trick’ your audiences into associating your product with a positive memory or experience. That’s right – simply selling a product is no longer cutting it in the marketing world. Modern marketers know that true success requires selling an emotion.

What makes it work?

People are generally built to find comfort in familiarity. Nostalgia – when implemented the right way into your marketing strategy – can feel like a cozy blanket that offers your customer a brief but blissful escape from reality.

One of the greatest things about this marketing approach is that nostalgia is a tool of remarkable versatility. Through the use of universal symbols (sounds, images, signs, etc.) you can pull many different emotional strings amongst your audience. Why? Because everyone has their own unique experience of the past which these symbolic representations can easily trigger. That way, nostalgia can add a personal touch to your marketing campaign while simultaneously helping you reach a wider audience of hungry-for-comfort consumers.

Walmart’s Black Friday commercial – nostalgia made “fetch”

By now, you’ve probably seen Walmart’s Black Friday commercial which featured a Mean Girls cast reunion and brought the early 2000s back to life on our home screens. The ad is a vivid example of nostalgia marketing and its undeniable success can be stripped down to a few fundamental factors:

Targeting the right audience: Most of the people who grew up to the iconic sound of Missy Eliott’s Pass That Dutch are now adult Millennials with a collective spending power of roughly 2.5 trillion dollars. Walmart’s strategic decision to aim their marketing campaign at one of the largest living adult generations is proof that knowing your audience matters.

Bridging the past and the present: It’s like 2004 again, but with a twist. The girls from the original cast are all grown up and portrayed as moms and mentors to the next generation of mean girls. As we watch them re-enact iconic scenes from the movie, we notice that – while some things stay the same – there’s always room for change. “On Wednesdays, we still wear pink”, Lindsay Lohan narrates, “but now, we shop Walmart Black Friday deals”. When made relevant to the current lifestyle of the target audience, nostalgia can be a powerful tool in the hands of the marketer.

Paying attention to the details: From Gretchen Wieners’ “STRUDLGRL” license plate to Missy Eliott’s cameo as the gym class coach, details hold an enormous significance in Walmart’s ad. For those viewers, who recognize every reference to the original movie, this commercial resonates as a true embodiment of nostalgia. Dropping a few Easter eggs in your content could heavily influence audiences’ engagement with your campaign, so don’t overlook the details.

How to leverage nostalgia as your competitive advantage

Okay, so at that point, you’re probably thinking that – as good as Walmart’s ad was – you don’t have the resources to feature the cast of Mean Girls in your upcoming campaign. However, using nostalgia as a marketing tool does not have to be flashy or grand. You could implement nostalgia in something as simple as an email newsletter or even a social media post. What’s most important, though, is that you do it right.

Know your audience: Create a target persona for your business. Who might be interested in what you’re selling? What age group do they fall into? What are their passions, interests, and hobbies? What about their spending habits? There are numerous accessible tools that you can use to understand your audience (and their needs) better, which would help you figure out how to establish an emotional hook
with them.

Creativity is key: The past is so much more than TV shows, iconic music and other things you might need to license the use of. It can also be all the tiny details hidden in the corners of our memory – colours, fonts, fashion silhouettes and so much more. Tapping into that vision of the “good old days” can open the doors to countless opportunities to rekindle positive experiences for your audience.

Coherence matters: Make sure to take a look at your brand’s mission and your current marketing landscape. How does nostalgia fit into all that? If your brand is more future-focused, for instance, this marketing approach might not be suitable for you. The best way to ensure the success of a nostalgia marketing campaign is to incorporate representations of the past in a way that is authentic to your brand and accessible to the contemporary consumer.

So, to recap – you don’t need a staggering budget to launch a nostalgia marketing campaign, nor do you have to replicate the successful ideas of other businesses (such as Walmart, for example). But you can certainly take away a few useful lessons from the businesses that do it right and boost engagement with your content significantly this season.

Think you still need some guidance with that mission? Don’t hesitate to leave all the heavy
lifting to us – drop us a message and let our marketing wizards bring a new flavour to your

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