Nostalgia Marketing: What Your Brand Can Learn from The Lion King 2019

Posted on December 4, 2018

It’s all over the internet and has met a mixed reception. The trailer for Jon Favreau’s 2019 remake of The Lion King is here.

While not all reactions to the trailer were negative, a common question has surrounded this film since it was announced: Why? 1994’s The Lion King is a beloved film, by general audiences and critics alike, boasting several awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy. The film was placed in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress because it met the criteria of being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It is and was the favorite movie of several children, myself included. So why would Disney rehash a piece so celebrated? Why is this trend happening? Why does every new movie seem to be a sequel or a reboot? What gives? The answer is nostalgia, one of the biggest marketing trends in recent history.

Nostalgia marketing sends your customers back to “the good old days.” This trend is especially effective when used for audiences of Baby Boomers, but has also shown to draw positive feelings in Generation X customers, Millennial Customers, and Generation Z customers. Nostalgia allows businesses to craft a rose-tinted version of the past, focusing on what audiences love and neglecting the darker parts of history. It serves to create trust in customers, establishing a brand as a longtime fixture in customer lives. The effectiveness of nostalgia marketing on Boomers and middle-age consumers is well documented, with some “55% of Americans [believing] that the past was a better time than today” according to a 2000 study by Duke University. That was in 2000 though. Why is nostalgia marketing so pervasive today? Well, because it works.

The 2018 Super Bowl saw a bevy of commercials targeting customers with an affinity for the nostalgic. Coke ran a remastered ad that originally aired in 1971. Pepsi began running a campaign called “Pepsi Generations,” which hearkened to several Pepsi ads and celebrities of yore. Kia featured a commercial in which Steven Tyler travels back to the ’70s so he can “Feel Something Again.” More recently, we’ve seen that Disney is releasing a mind-boggling eleven(!) “live-action reimaginings” of their previous work. Netflix parlayed ’80s nostalgia and produced Stranger Things, a mega-hit in its own right. Microsoft just launched a campaign calling on “’90s kids” to return to Internet Explorer. I’ll admit it, that ad stirred feelings in me. Nostalgia works.

If we just put our business hats on, nostalgia makes a ton of sense to aid your marketing. Maybe your brand isn’t old enough to say, “Hey, we’ve been with you for 50 years!” but it can channel those days gone. If you know your target demographic, appealing to that sense of remembrance can be effective. Just be careful as consumers age.

If we put our artist hats on, as many millennials do (and I’m very much a millennial), you can see through some of the cynical practices of nostalgia-mongering. When I see the trailer for the new Lion King, I don’t see an artistic achievement. I see a shameless cash-grab that preys upon the positive feelings people have toward properties that already exist. Disney is evidently capable of creating amazingly realistic animation, but my thought process is to take that technology and create something new. Why do we need to see a rehash of The Lion King, or Lady and the Tramp, or Aladdin, or The Jungle Book? Those were all innovative movies when they came out. Take the risk, and produce something else great, Disney!

This is the peril of nostalgia marketing. It’s fun to be reminded of the past, but you have to have tact. Give your consumers credit — they’re smart and will see through cheap attempts to prey upon them. Nostalgia isn’t bad, but unoriginality is. If your brand can toe that line, and both create feelings of remembrance while offering something fresh, you’ll do well, and in the future, people will look back on your brand with nostalgia.