Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nostalgia: advertising's weapon of choice.

It's no secret, nostalgia is probably the most powerful tool in advertising. And really, it's the basis for any sort of shared human connection. Whether it solidifies a like-minded subculture, or perceptively reminisces a happier time – nostalgia is a sensory force to be reckoned with. Preying on memories and leaving traces of familiarity behind.

"A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen."Edward de Bono (originator of the concept - and formal tools - of Lateral Thinking, b.1933)
We all favor our "remembered past." You know, the more pleasing version of our past that we mentally replay. It may or may not be what actually happened. The mind stores parts and pieces. Witnesses miss key details. The game of Telephone changes the original message. We all selectively forget about our awkward or fashion-trend-victim phase. (Come on, you know you had one. Break out the family photo album. Yeah, it's there.) 

There are many ways to trigger memories and unleash nostalgia. Sound, vision, touch, kinetic, and emotion-related memories are all areas of access. You may not readily remember something, but one of your senses might have been paying attention. If that sense experiences something similar, there is a direct connection.

Nostalgic cues combine past and present associations, creating related connections when evoked. If used correctly, nostalgia can bypass a lot of trust-building time for a new brand or idea. 

As future predictability becomes less certain, we find certainty in the past.

Recently, Arcade Fire demonstrated how emotionally infective nostalgia can be with The Wilderness Downtown Google Chrome Experiment. New technology unearthed formative memories from a large, diverse audience. The lyrics alone for "We Used to Wait," off Arcade Fire's album The Suburbs, are enough to whisk you back and forth between today and yesterday. A nervously-frenetic present and a calmly-anticipatory past.

The Wilderness Downtown Experiment made me question who I am today and what I would change if I could. It reminded me that patience is not my virtue. Waiting for letters used to drive me insane. But, when they arrived, they were tactile and real. Rich with personal and handwritten authenticity. Sometimes marked 'fragile' and filled with photos. I would read and reread them before they were filed away – to be discovered again at a later time.

Today's communication is mostly instant and temporary. Existing in the present. Living in our memories. Becoming enhanced in our remembered past. All while we no longer wait.

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