Every time Gen Z uses social media, they’re bombarded with everything from evidence of their peers’ superiority and infographics about the climate crisis to Instagram-perfect models.
Gen Z is embracing nostalgia to escape the noise — and the all too frequent filter-heavy posts perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards. They’re craving light-heartedness when the world feels heavy. So, they turn to past times, even if those aren’t theirs. With this shift comes a unique opportunity for brands to connect with the younger generation and have fun doing it.
Brands that authentically connect with the deeper roots of nostalgia and bring the spirit of joy back to the conversation will win the hearts of today’s culture. From 1990s-inspired fashion and accessories with an inclusive twist to makeup collaborations featuring nostalgic franchises and messaging that embraces individuality and encourages everyone to be comfortable in their own skin, this messaging is working for Gen Z in 2023.
Comfort is at the center of the connections Gen Z seeks
In a time when the outside world can feel intense and unpredictable, Gen Z craves comfort and stability. Especially as content around self-improvement proliferates and the pressure to be better and do more continues, Gen Z is looking for experiences that help them relieve the stress they feel from sources like media and beauty magazines.
Brands such as Dove and its Self-Esteem Project are recently especially popular with Gen Z because they’re calling out unrealistic beauty standards across filter-infested platforms while spreading the message that people are beautiful exactly as they are.
In other examples, amid a culture obsessed with productivity and self-improvement, Gen Z is finding it radical and rebellious to do something for the pure nostalgic joy of it. For example, they’re indulging in — and finding comfort in — whimsical accessories from Carys Cuttlefish, such as Sad Pancake earrings or Worry Wart pins.
‘Newstalgia’ is the new nostalgia — here’s what it means to Gen Z
When it comes to Gen Z, newstalgia is about taking something nostalgic and making something new out of it.
For example, Gen Z has embraced past fashion trends, such as Abercrombie and Y2K fashion; they want updated versions that embrace body positivity and inclusivity — they demand better.
The latest ‘Barbie’ movie is a potent example of newstalgia. It’s a wildly popular, strange experience that modernizes an iconic character from the 1950s with an inclusive cast, self-aware jokes and funny scenes that make powerful social commentary. Online, an overwhelming chorus of people unabashedly and unironically embraced this pink-centric, women-led movie, in some ways directly addressing the longstanding narrative of the struggle to embrace femininity as something both joyful and worth being taken seriously.
Sometimes, the modern twist doesn’t come from the media but from how Gen Z plays with it. For example, when McDonald’s released the Grimace birthday shake to harness nostalgia for one of its characters, Gen Z started an absurdist TikTok trend where they pretended to die gruesomely after drinking the shake. Part of the fun of nostalgia is the mystery of how Gen Z transforms it into their own thing, whether it’s silly and lighthearted or dark and edgy — or both.
Brands are authentically connecting with Gen Z’s hearts by tapping into nostalgia
By creating luxury products and whole collections rooted in a reverence for the past, brands can create items that Gen Z are excited to buy.
For instance, Gucci recently recaptured the magic of its turn-of-the-century fashion for a new generation with the 1990s-and-Y2K-inspired collection, featuring bold sunglasses, shiny rhinestones and other 1990s staples.
In their shopping experiences, brands are playing up mediums that reigned pre-Gen Z. Vacation Sunscreen’s product line-up feels fresh out of a physical catalog, with images of boomboxes, beach balls and gigantic 1990s house phones galore. The company even offers digital coupons that evoke the feeling of snipping out an exciting offer, complete with dotted lines and barcodes.
Nostalgia in marketing can be another powerful way to capture Gen Z’s attention. Old-school brands such as Polaroid are collaborating with modern influencers to create organic content that connects with younger viewers. Other brands are tapping into the power of nostalgic movies and TV shows, like Lottie London’s Vampire Diaries makeup collection — which the brand paired with the opportunity to get the collection for free by donating blood and posting about it on social media.
As Gen Z craves comfort, connection and a time free from the pressure to be “better,” brands can deliver unique experiences that authentically capitalize on these desires while securing an engaged audience. If brands offer nostalgic product experiences, Gen Z will be more likely to embrace them with their own twist. In a world where nostalgia is rewriting the past, brands can creatively tap into nostalgia to rewrite their own futures.
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