AI and Nostalgia: New Tech Gets an Old Friend

June 11, 2024
Executive Vice President of Brand Strategy

In today’s digitally driven world, nostalgia brings an obvious counterpunch: warmth and familiarity. And for brands looking to make an impression, it can be an emotional shortcut…tapping into consumer memory structures to bring the warm and fuzzies. The end result? Instant brand affinity. A connection made quickly by an understanding of common cultural touchpoints. It’s the handshake of “I was there, too!”

And it’s hardly a novel conceit. Brands play in this space every day. With a few dashes of syrup and sprinkles of candy, McDonald’s Grandma McFlurry recently (and craftily) played on the “grandmacore” phenomenon that was sweeping TikTok – bringing the in-the-know vibes to the cozy comfort of nostalgia and, in the process, delivering a delicious smash hit.

We’ve had successful trips down nostalgia-lane here at Chernoff Newman, too. Resurrecting the “cootie catcher” to serve as an ice-breaker for difficult conversations between parents and kids around drugs, alcohol, and vaping. And tapping into South Carolina’s agrarian past to make a statement about its future.


But it’s the future of nostalgia (is that an oxymoron?) that’s got us most excited. AI-driven analytics provide deep insights into consumer behavior, enabling brands to identify which nostalgic elements resonate most with their target audience. And then the Midjourneys of the world are there to seal the deal. The opportunity is truly end-to-end. Creating the nostalgic visual output to complement the insightful nostalgic input.

Sounds easy, right? It is, kind of. While you’re out there prompting your way to your consumers’ pleasure centers, it’s good to keep in mind a few key guardrails.

Don’t Forget Your Audience: Knowing the demographic and psychographic characteristics of your audience is key. And sticking to them is even more important. As you go down the AI wormhole, don’t lose sight of the people you’re trying to reach. You will see many shiny new things on your journey – don’t forget why you went off on that journey in the first place.

Even Nostalgia Needs To Be New: In a market crowded with new and innovative products, nostalgia offers a unique way for brands to stand out. But it can also be a trap. As noted above, the field is full of players. If you’re going to go the AI-influenced nostalgia route, make sure your output is doing something ownable and saying something different. Otherwise, you’re not contributing much value. You’re just…there. And you’ll likely get lost in the fray.

Be Authentically You: Any attempt to harness nostalgia must be authentic and genuine. Even if the bots are telling you that your new kombucha looks great in a trucker hat, only you know if that’s actually true or not. Forced or insincere efforts can backfire, damaging reputation and making your brand look like a try-hard.

Nostalgia in branding is a powerful tool that can create deep emotional connections, differentiate a brand, and foster loyalty. And when seen through an AI lens, the potential impact is even greater. Just remember, using it effectively and authentically is key. As you mine, explore, and make, stay true to your brand and its intentions – and don’t forget what brought you there in the first place.

Chernoff Newman has deep category experience in agriculture, food and beverage, education and workforce development, energy, economic development, financial/insurance, healthcare and infrastructure. We design integrated marketing and strategic communications that are impactful, thought-provoking and influential. We marry ingenuity with business know-how to influence beliefs and behaviors for brands, companies and their many stakeholders. We influence attitude and inclination. We influence opinion and outcomes. And when needed, we also influence to quell contention.