Nostalgia In Advertisement: Structure And Effects

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Nostalgia Construct

The term “nostalgia” was first used by Johannes Hoffer in 1688, and since then has been studied from a variety of perspectives.

Looking into nostalgia’s origins, it derives from two Greek roots nostos and algos. First, nostos, “to return home/ to one’s native land”. Secondly, the root algos, or “pain, suffering, or grief”, completes the term nostalgia, referring to its original connotation of the pain or suffering related with the return home. Nostalgia as an emotion has both pleasant and unpleasant elements, it is a myriad of physiological and psychological symptoms. This bittersweet emotion refers back to an earlier period time in one’s life, ranging from ten to seventy years-old, creating a selective recall of the past experiences. Nostalgia may induce memories of peaceful and pleasant times, or it may evoke times of tension and turbulence (Hofer, 1688; Holak & Havlena, 1992).

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Nostalgia is a complex feeling, emotion, or mood produced by reflection on things (objects, persons, experiences, ideas) associated with the past. It is both an “evocation of a lived past” (Davis, 1979) and a “wistful mood that may be prompted by an object, a scene, a smell, or a strain of music” (Belk, 1990). Although this emotion is based on a lived past, it may not reflect the reality of the actual past, but a distorted memory that produces a better picture than the actual truth. (Davis, 1979).

Nostalgia is an experience/sensation particularly private, what is nostalgic for one may leave another indifferent. B. Daniels even compares a nostalgic experience to Straus’ comments on attending an opera: “The audience comprises a group of individuals; whether their number is small or large, each one sees and hears for himself, alone; nevertheless, all of them see and hear the same performance, together. The view is ‘public’ while the sights are private…” (Straus, 1969, p. 229).

Opposed to Hofer, Yearning for Yesterday, written by F. Davis in 1979, addresses the concept of nostalgia as a positive feeling towards a personally experienced past, a belief that “things were better… then than now”. The author emphasizes the personal nature of nostalgic experiences. Davis suggests three “ascending orders” of nostalgia: simple nostalgia (unexamined experiences of the phenomenon), reflexive nostalgia (critical consideration of the historical accuracy of nostalgic experience) and interpreted nostalgia (critical treatment of the nostalgic feeling itself). Although the concepts created in this book were not fully developed, Davis concludes with an analysis of “contemporary nostalgia” and the connections of nostalgia to economic institutions and the mass media, that historical facts that characterize our times, can later on be used in “nostalgia industries” (e.g., the deliberate planning of future nostalgic revivals in the marketing of new products).

Developing this view of nostalgia, Holbrook and Schindler (1991) define it as “a preference toward objects that were more common when one was younger”. Four aspects are drawn from it. First, preference, meaning the consumer’s degree of liking toward various objects used in consumption. Second, the objects refer to any kind of product (both goods and services). Third, with respect to the concept more common… when one was younger, differences of opinion emerge on whether nostalgia relates only to one’s own store of remembered events from a “personally experienced past” (Davis, 1979, p. 8) or reaches back historically so that it “engulfs the whole past” (Lowenthal 1985, p. 6). While nostalgia might attach itself to experiences recalled from one’s own youth, it might also focus on the womb (Fodor, 1950), on objects “recalled” via collective memory from an historical era (Lowenthal, 1985).

At last, this definition focuses on the temporal orientation of one’s product-related attitudes and does not necessarily bear on the degree of sentimentality or other bittersweet, wistful feelings that may influence those positive affective responses towards objects from days of yore.

Influence of Consumers’ traits in Nostalgia effectiveness

Nostalgic brands enhance consumers' brand familiarity, trust, and brand preferences by reminding them of childhood memories and imprinted emotions (Braun-LaTour et al., 2007; Holak and Havlena, 1998; Schindler and Holbrook, 2003). Consumers using nostalgic products better recall the past (Goulding, 2001), feel more connected with the past and people (Brown et al., 2003; Goulding, 2001; Loveland et al., 2010), and more likely to volunteer and donate (Zhou et al., 2012a).

Nostalgia Proneness

The ability of an individual to travel back in time only using his mind, creates the opportunity to have meaningful past experiences. The recollection of these personal memories often elicits nostalgia. Nostalgia is a predominantly positive, social and past-oriented emotion. Experimentally-induced nostalgia increases positive affect, elevates self-regard, fosters social connectedness, and instils a sense of meaning in life (Routledge et al., 2011; Wildschut Sedikides, Ardnt, & Routledge, 2006).

Nostalgia itself is not a preference, but rather a feeling or mood that can lead to a preference for things. There are two major factors that influence nostalgia in consumers, age and the propensity to have nostalgia, also named nostalgia proneness.

Davis (1979) introduces the concept of nostalgia as a mechanism that allows people to maintain their identity in the course of major transitions that serve as breaks in the life cycle (e.g., the identity change from childhood to pubescence, from adolescence to adulthood, from single to married). Therefore, the tendency to engage in nostalgic experiences varies over an individual’s lifetime. Nostalgia Proneness has been hypothesized to peak as individuals move into middle age and during “retirement” years. (Holak & Havlena, 1992).

Nostalgia Proneness can be distinguished between two contrasting views, the “sociality view” and the “maladaptation view”. The first one emphasizes the rich social collection of nostalgic memories. Nostalgic recollections typically involve meaningful interactions with close ones, such as family members, partners and friends (Wildschut et al., 2006). Not only, linguistic analyses showed that nostalgic narratives had more first-person plural pronouns, social words (e.g., mother, friend) (Robertson, Wildschut, Sedikides, & Vingerhoets, in preparation), but also individuals who are high in nostalgia proneness manifest a stronger preference for activities and song lyrics in which social relationships are central (Batcho, 1998, Batcho, DaRin, Nave, & Yaworsky, 2008).

On the other hand, the “maladaptation view” entails that nostalgia proneness is a form of emotional instability or depression. In this scenario, nostalgia is a retreat into the past forbidding the individual to deal with the demands of adulthood. (Sedikides, Wildschut, Arndt, & Routledge, 2006, Sedikides Wildschut, & Baden, 2004). Consistent with this view, research showed that neuroticism is positively linked with nostalgia proneness (Barrett et al., 2010).

Consumers’ self-concepts

In addiction to nostalgia proneness, nostalgia also functions differently depending on consumers’ self-concepts.

Self-concepts are the ways in which people perceive themselves (Morse and Gergen, 1970). People often conceptualize themselves according to two basic aspects of human beings: agency and communion (Bakan, 1966, Wiggins, 1991). Agency represents personal interests and values such as self-asertion, self-improvement, self-protection, and self-esteem. Communion, on the other hand, focuses on social bonding, connections with others, kindness, cooperation, care for others, and group harmony (Bartz and Lydon, 2004). Hence, while agentic individuals tend to show self-centered behaviour and try to differentiate themselves from others, communal individuals are inclined to be part of a group and try to maintain social connections (Bakan, 1966; Wiggins, 1991).

Consumers purchase products corresponding to their self-concepts as a means of self-expression (Braun et al., 2002; Kotler and Armstrong, 2012), and nostalgia may fulfill the needs of either personal or social selves (Hart et al., 2011; Loveland et al., 2010; Wildschut et al., 2010), therefore it is important to investigate the role of self-concepts in the influence of nostalgia.

When people engage in nostalgic reflections, they feel high levels of self-positivity (Sedikides et al., 2008; Wildschut et al., 2006), which satisfies the needs of agentic selves. On the other hand, nostalgic engagement also enhances feelings of social belongingness (Loveland et al., 2010; Wilschut et al., 2010), which meets the needs of communal selves.

Social psychologists have demonstrated that there are two essential functions of nostalgia: enhancing perceived feelings of social connectedness (Loveland et al., 2010; Routledge et al., 2011; Wildschut et al,. 2006; Zhou et al., 2012) and enhancing perceived feelings of social positivity (Hart et al., 2011; Sedikides et al., 2008; Wildschut et al., 2006; Wildschut et al., 2010). Nostalgic experiences lead individuals to consciously recollect positive relationships with others they had in the past, and this process enhances their feelings of self-positivity. The recollection of positive self-images, results in an increase of self-esteem (Hart et al., 2011; Vess et al., 2010; Wildschut et al., 2006; Zhou et al., 2008).

Jiyeon Nam et al. (2016), proposes that these different functions of nostalgia can be facilitated by different types of self-concepts. Nostalgia, which enhances feelings of social connectedness and of self-positivity, can fulfil the needs of either personal or social selves.

An Experiment was ran to test the predicted hypothesis that nostalgia functions differently when consumers have agentic versus communal self-concepts. A two (agentic vs communal) by two (nostalgic vs non-nostalgic) between subjects was employed to test these predictions. A fictitious nostalgic Starbucks advertisement was created by adopting Muehling and Sprott (2004) approach. To induce participants' nostalgic feelings, Starbucks's 1971 logo was inserted into the ad and nostalgic taglines emphasizing a meaningful past moment were used. To manipulate agentic versus communal self-concepts, the ads were designed to include images of objects, people, or events that characterized either agency or communion (images of success, achievements and aspirations for agentic, and images with family, friends and loved ones for communal). Participants rated the ad with agentic contents as significantly more agentic than the ad with communal contents. On the other hand, participants evaluated the ad with communal contents as more communal than the ad with agentic contents. Participants in the nostalgic condition felt significantly more nostalgic feelings than did those in the non-nostalgic condition. Agentic participants were more likely to buy a nostalgic product and recommend it to others through enhanced self-positivity, whereas communal participants were more likely to buy a nostalgic product and recommend it to others through enhanced social connectedness. The fact that there were no significant indirect effects of self-concept through social connectedness and self-positivity on purchase and recommendation intentions in the non-nostalgic condition further confirms the different functions of nostalgia depending on different self-concepts.

Nostalgia Across Age

The general levels of nostalgic consumption experienced by consumers depend on changes over time, therefore associated with age. In western society it is adolescence and early adulthood that has the most impact when forming memories that will later on be used as nostalgic emotions/experience (Holbrook, 1993).

Not only brand’s physical attributes and personality characteristics influence consumers, nostalgic memories can also play a major role in shaping the ‘future’ consumer/brand relationship (Braun-Latour et al. 2006; Nedungadi 1990; Biehal and Chakravarti 1986).

Relationships are formed early in life. This also applies to brand relationships. Brand relationships formed early result in the strongest consumer-brand relationship. (Fournier 1998, Ji 2002). Early childhood exposure to a brand is a way to create an emotional attachment, building childhood memories that will influence their future brand consumption decisions.

The tendency to engage in nostalgic feelings varies over the course of an individual’s life. According to Holak and Havlena, ‘Nostalgia Proneness’ has its peak as individuals move into middle age and during retirement years.

Childhood Brand Nostalgia

Marketers have repositioned brands that have been continuously available in ways designed to capitalize on consumers' feelings of nostalgia. (e.g., Vaqueiro's new retro packaging). Marketers have even attempted to add nostalgic appeal to brands that are not really old, a new product with a 'retro' design intended to appear as though it comes from an earlier time and evoke feelings of nostalgia. Retromarketing differs from nostalgic marketing in that while these items were developed and designed to feel as though they come from decades past, they come with all the bells and whistles that are expected of a product in today's marketplace.

An examination of the marketplace shows that these attempts to market products based on nostalgic feelings can be successful. In other cases, the updating or reintroduction of the brand is met with passive acceptance or even negativity. This suggests that marketers do not fully understand how to effectively use childhood brand nostalgia as a marketing tool and would benefit from a better understanding of how brand nostalgic individuals differ from their non-brand nostalgic counterparts.

In marketing, nostalgia has most frequently been studied as a psychographic variable, as seen in Holbrook and Schindler's work examining nostalgia proneness (Holbrook and Schindler, 1989, 1991) and bonded nostalgia (Holbrook and Schindler, 2003). However, neither of these constructs fully addresses the tendency for a consumer to develop feelings of nostalgia towards a brand.

Nostalgic bonds have also been mentioned as one way an individual can develop a relationship with a brand. (Fournier, 1998; Smit et al., 2007). Fournier suggests that these nostalgic relationships may have greater significance for the consumer than other brand relationships, which enables them to endure through the consumer's lifetime despite infrequent contact with the brand. Nostalgia is also included as one of the seven dimensions in Fournier's (1998) construct of brand relationship quality, and as a component of Smit et al.'s (2007) Brand Relationship Quality (BRQ) scale.

Childhood Brand Nostalgia can be defined as a positively valanced emotional attachment to a brand because of the brand's association with fond memories of the individual's nonrecent lived past. This definition is distinct from a more general emotional attachment to a brand, as a nostalgic attachment to a brand must be based on fond memories of experiences with the brand in the individual's non-recent lived past. Distinct from bonded nostalgia, as it does not consider an emotional connection to a specific object or possession, but a nostalgic connection to a brand. Finally, this definition is specific to the relationship between a consumer and a particular brand, distinguishing it from the more general dispositional tendency of nostalgia proneness.

The only existing measure of consumer nostalgia is the Nostalgia Proneness scale (Holbrook, 1993), which is designed to measure the psychographic variable of an individual's overall tendency towards nostalgia. The BRQ scale developed by Smit et al. (2007) does capture nostalgic brand connections as one dimension of the scale, but this dimension is only measured with two items.

The findings of this study suggest that the Childhood Brand Nostalgia scale is able to detect variance in brand nostalgia among consumers across multiple brands within multiple product categories. In addition, Childhood Brand Nostalgia scale is able to capture variance in a single consumer's nostalgic feelings towards more than one brand. (Shields and Johnson, 2016).

Nostalgic brands enhance consumers' brand familiarity, trust, and brand preferences by reminding them of childhood memories and imprinted emotions (Braun-LaTour et al., 2007; Holak and Havlena, 1998; Schindler and Holbrook, 2003). Consumers using nostalgic products better recall the past (Goulding, 2001), feel more connected with the past and people (Brown et al., 2003; Goulding, 2001; Loveland et al., 2010), and more likely to volunteer and donate (Zhou et al., 2012a).

Nostalgia itself is not a preference, but rather a feeling or mood that can lead to a preference for things. There are two major factors that influence nostalgia in consumers, age and the propensity to nostalgia, also named nostalgia proneness.

Nostalgia in Advertising

Nowadays, more than ever, advertisers face the challenge to use innovative techniques to communicate to a selected target market in an effective way. Nostalgia advertising is one of the techniques available to facilitate this communication.

This technique of using artefacts and/or themes that make consumers relive or remember the past, has gained notable attention in recent years. There are different theories that try to explain and comprehend the emergence of nostalgia. Some theories (Miller 1990; Stern 1992) argue that nostalgia is particularly effective in the end of the century. This period is usually a time of cultural anxiety, when the public would rather look toward the less threatening and comfortable past than to face the unknown future.

Another explanation regarding the emergence of nostalgia, explored by Lowenthal (1985), argues that nostalgia increases as consumers become more dissatisfied with life as it is. Consumers look into the past for comfort.

Although the term ‘nostalgia’ has been around for a while, a rising opportunity of turning the ‘yesterday’ into new is emerging among consumers. This new trend of retro-marketing is emerging and gaining each day more visibility.

Nostalgia is being used in different areas, from reintroducing a product in the market, as the example of VW Beetle or MINI, to using an old package as advertising, as Coca-Cola did when recreated the famous contour bottle in 1994. Coca-Cola increased by double digits after this new package. Nostalgia is also being used in advertising, Ford Motor Company has shot commercials that look historic and vintage, with grainy footage, hoping that consumers will associate longevity with quality.

(Holak, Matveev, & Havlena, 2007)(Holak & Havlena, 1998)(Holbrook, 1993)(Stewart, 1990)(Chi, Yeh, & Tsai, 2011)(Muehling, Sprott, & Sultan, 2014)(Reisenwitz, 2004)(Gardner, 1985)(Muehling & Sprott, 2004)(Muehling et al., 2014)(Kokkinaki & Lunt, 1999)(Holak & Havlena, 1998)(Schuman & Scott, 1989)(Merchant & Rose, 2013)

Effects of Advertising in Brand Attitude & Purchase Intention

A positive brand attitude directly affects and promotes brand selection; therefore, marketing and advertising rely heavily on the formation of a favourable brand attitude.

When studying the attitude-behaviour relationship, it is mandatory to study the concept of involvement. The term involvement is generally used to refer to the personal relevance or importance of an object (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979). Studies based on these authors show that attitudes that have been formed under high involvement conditions have a strong impact on behaviour, whereas attitudes formed under lower levels of involvement are less influential.

Other conceptualizations integrate involvement, accessibility and other moderators of the attitude-behaviour relationship as multiple dimensions of the more general construct of attitude strength (Krosnick & Petty, 1995; Raden, 1985). Attitude strength can be defined in terms of the qualities that strong attitudes possess: “Strong attitudes are persistent, are resistant to counter persuasion and have a strong impact on decisions and behaviours”.

Inducing favourable brand attitudes is not sufficient for advertising to be effective, these attitudes need to be strong in order to influence purchase intentions and behaviour. Findings suggest that increasing consumers’ motivation to elaborate on advertising messages enhances the accessibility of the resulting attitudes, therefore advertisers should focus on increasing consumers’ involvement with the advertised message (Kokinaki & Lunt, 1999).

In a fast and competitive marketing environment, if a product/service wants to be fast known to consumers, it must rely on advertising campaigns to make consumers memorize product messages. Since consumers contact with multiple advertisements in a day, marketers use different methods to catch consumers attention and influence on their buying decisions. Purchase intentions can measure the possibility of a consumer to buy a product, the higher the intention, higher the willingness to buy the product. According to Fishbein and Ajzen (1975), consumer’s attitude and assessment and external factors construct consumer purchase intention.

Effects of Nostalgic Advertisement in Brand Attitude and Purchase Intentions

Nostalgia-themed advertisements may be capable of prompting nostalgic thoughts and pleasant memories in consumers, resulting in a more favourable brand attitude and purchase intention. (Muehling et al. 2014; Baker and Kennedy 1994; Holak and Havlena 1998; Muehling and Sprott 2004).

Nostalgic advertisements are most pronounced for those who have a personal attachment or a meaningful connection with the advertised brand. Therefore, the effects of nostalgia on consumers’ brand attitudes and purchase intentions should be influenced by one’s past associations with (i.e. in-home childhood exposure and past personal attachment to the advertised brand (Muehling et al., 2014). However, it has not been studied the influence that past brand associations has on consumers’ response to advertising. Findings in Muehling et al. research suggest that consumers’ past does indeed moderate the effects of nostalgia-themed advertising.

When associating Nostalgic advertisement and purchase intentions, there appears to be a direct relation between this type of advertisement and low-involvement purchase situations, where there are minimal differences among brand alternatives (Belch and Belch 1998).

Marconi (1996) notes that even though nostalgic advertising may catch attention and be entertaining, its effectiveness in influencing communication effects, such as increasing the level of brand awareness and brand attitude, and ultimately increasing sales, has not been firmly established and proved. This type of research will contribute to understand what products, and which are compatible with the nostalgia advertisement technique.

However, in practice little can be done to increase product or purchase involvement, as they depend on individuals' values, interests, consumption needs etc. It is in low involvement situations that attitude accessibility becomes of particular importance, as such situations are more likely to be associated with automatic, unconscious decisions (Herr & Fazio, 1993). It is in such situations that brand attitudes need to be accessible in order to influence purchase intentions and behaviours. Research findings indicate that certain executional cues of an advertisement can enhance advertising message involvement.


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