Mad Men previews are flowing fast and heavy on AMC, recalling a powerful quote from the first year the show aired. If you’re a fan, you probably remember the words of Don Draper from Season One and know exactly what they mean. He said, “Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ … It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”

If there’s one thing Mad Men does better than any other show on television, it’s nostalgia. Sure, the writers, producers, and actors will point out a million other reasons the show has become a hit, but the real star is this one thing—the one thing this powerful line was based on. It is potent, and you can use that potency to sell, if you’re savvy and sensitive. How? Let’s explore.


Your approach to invoking nostalgia is important. You don’t want to change your entire branding message for the sake of one product or service, unless you are planning a full rebrand. Before you do anything, assess your buyer personas. You don’t want to go poking at memories those buyers simply don’t have. In other words, if your buyers are millennials, they won’t feel nostalgia for the 60s era. They might want to recreate some of the fashion, but they won’t have the memories that go with it.

Next, decide how far you want to go. Some brands consistently reach into the past for inspiration, like Old Navy with their various retro campaigns for multiple eras. Others may choose one product line to revive for a limited time. However you choose to approach nostalgic marketing, be sure to test a large group of people before launching. You want to make sure you’re not about to poke a hornet’s nest of emotions.

Marketing Tools

Once you have your campaign in place, don’t be afraid to use the marketing tools that are readily available to you. Your goal is to reach as many people as you can. Fortunately, nostalgia is one of those emotions people want to share. Think about those BuzzFeed articles that everyone spreads around Facebook and Twitter. You know, the “34 Things Only 90s Girls Understand” and “28 Tragedies Every 80s Girl Experienced.” There’s a reason the site keeps posting different variations on the same theme, and that reason is “viral.”

The content you post may garner enough information without arrows and flashing lights, but what does it hurt to call attention to the nostalgic feelings? Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all use the #tbt and #fbf (Throwback Thursday and Flashback Friday) hashtags. These give you a built-in marketing channel where you can start gathering an audience right away.

Reaping the Rewards

Striking the balance between nostalgia and painful memories is tough, but the reward is worth your trouble. Studies show people are willing to pay more money for products and services that bring back good memories than they are for things that allow us to create new memories. In other words, a revival of the original Nintendo game system has the ability to outsell the creation of a hot new platform. At least, people would pay a lot more money for one now than they did back then.

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