The Business of Nostalgia

Too soon, too soon.

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Whether you grew up decades ago, or just got out of diapers, marketers and meme-fluencers are ready to serve up and cash in on looking back.

Here’s how four generations are handling the nostalgia for their youth…

Gen Z

By late July, Minions: The Rise Of Gru had already grossed over $600M worldwide, making it the biggest animated film of the pandemic era. It also now holds the record for  biggest opening over the Independence Day holiday. This, for the sixth film in the franchise. 

How are these yellow goggle-wearing jellybeans still pulling in these kinds of numbers? One big reason: members of Gen Z are now old enough to feel nostalgia about their own childhoods. 

#GentleMinions, a viral TikTok trend, has seen hoards of young people hit the theatre dressed in suits. One teenager told the NYT “pure nostalgia” for the childhood fave led him and his friends to put on their Wall Street best for a screening.

“Anybody over the age of 25 was, like, really, really confused about what we were doing there.”

The youngest millennials are now just over 25 and, according to Gen Z, low-key ancient.  

New York Times | July 8, 2022


Meanwhile, millennials are on their own quasi-ironic animated nostalgia trip, selling out a touring Shrek-themed rave. Attendees show up in costumes inspired by the green ogre and cut a rug to embarrassing songs that they may or may not secretly enjoy. According to organizer, Ka5sh: “I feel like Shrek is the right amount of cringe, but also the right amount of nostalgia.” 

We buy that equation.

So what’s the secret to figuring out which pop-culture relics are worth resuscitating? It might come down to meme magic: after a recent party in Brooklyn, Ka5sh (the 5 is silent, by the way) told media that, like SpongeBob SquarePants , Shrek “continued to age well online.”

Narcity | March 23, 2022

Gen X

Making up only about 15% of the population, the “Forgotten Generation” has spent life being overlooked, but this may be about to change. Now, in their early 40s to mid-50s, the cohort sandwiched between the boomer and millennial behemoths has managed to save over $13 trillion, becoming the wealthiest generation per capita in the process. 

So much for the slacker cliches.

And, no surprise, marketers have clocked this accumulation of cash. “Those who mine the ’80s and ’90s to smartly sell products can reap the benefits,” says Adweek. “Think bringing back Crystal Pepsi, reuniting Wayne and Garth for Uber Eats and referencing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for LiftMaster.” 

In October, an exhibition called “Growing Up X” will open at the Illinois State Museum, reports USA Today, all about (and presumably for) “the last generation to have had an analog childhood.”

Xers may be more resistant to pandering — Douglas Coupland’s classic novel Generation X said it best with a chapter titled, “I Am Not a Target Market” — but if they don’t bite on a shameless ’90s revival, Gen Z‘s got it covered. 

Adweek | May 24, 2022


Finally, unlike Xers, baby boomers are used to being fawned over. “By the mid-’60s, nearly half the U.S. population was under 25,” says MarketWatch, and advertisers desperately vied for their attention. That’s why boomers vividly recall brands and media from their youth, feeling an affection for their past, which can border on obsessive.

They’re the generation with the largest buying power, and industries catering to boomer nostalgia are so numerous it’s hard to single one out. But we’ll try, with music. 

Queen’s 1981 Greatest Hits just passed seven million copies sold in the U.K., where it’s spent over 1,000 weeks on the charts. In 2021, the Rolling Stones staged the year’s highest-grossing tour. 

One music critic argues it’s proof that older music is simply better. But, new research suggests boomers are the only generation that prefers music from before the before the ’90s, writes Quartz. 

So, is the business of nostalgia moving on from the 20th century? Maybe.

Turns out boomers love Minions too.

Quartz | July 20, 2022