Weekly dose of microtrends that will shape our future

Unlocking the Power of Nostalgia: How CPG Brands are Tapping into Consumer Psyche

by Corinne Rivera

Hello Forecasters,

Welcome back to the Inflection Point. The newsletter tracking 100 million consumer signals to predict cultural shifts relevant to you.

This week we’re covering ‘Nostalgia’


  • 2023 will be the summer of nostalgia.
  • Big brands are treating memories like a commodity.
  • Consumers are looking for products that remind them of simpler times.

Break out your flip phone; we’re going for a ride.

  • Barbie
  • Transformers
  • Indiana Jones
  • Mario Brothers
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

What do all these iconic 80s titles have in common? They’re all getting a 2023 reboot.

Is Hollywood suffering from a lack of originality now that AI is picking what movies to make? Or is society so desperate to remember simpler times?

Either way, Nostalgia sells.

So what’s behind the ‘Nostalgia’ trend?

Let’s go back in time.

It's April 2020, and we're locked inside. Yearning for the world we knew, we wondered when things would feel 'normal' again. It's that homesickness for the past where nostalgia gets its meaning.

Deriving from the Greek 'nostos' (return or homecoming) and algos (pain), nostalgia refers to the suffering from being elsewhere in time. What used to be a "disease" punishable by death is now a tool for self-soothing.

A romanticization of simpler times

It's no wonder that Stranger Things is the second most streamed show on Netflix. Taking place in the mid-'80s, it reminds us of the American suburban dream—a time of economic stability and a clear and common external enemy during the Cold War.

The below NWO.ai signal shows increased consumer conversations around entertainment as comfort.

NWO.ai's signal report for 'entertainment comfort' -forecasting a spike in consumer interest January 2024

Nostalgia remains a prominent emotional experience

It satiates our craving for familiarity, comfort, and certainty. Things used to make more sense, didn't they?

Brands are taking advantage.

This week McDonald's released the Grimace Birthday Meal with a free purple shake. The nostalgic video celebrating the character's 52nd birthday was launched with a 1980s retro-themed game.

“Our fans have amazing childhood memories of their birthdays at McDonald’s..." says Tariq Hassan, McDonald's US CMO.

"...Grimace's Birthday is all about paying homage to the fun moments we all share."

Commodifying memories

Brand-induced nostalgia relies on shared memories. Generations ago, our options for almost everything were more limited. We, therefore, shared more commonalities. Today, endless choices for content, brands, and belief systems make it harder for society to sync up.

We all experience such a broad spectrum of things. Globally we’re seeing an increase in the conversation around the concept of ‘polarization.’

NWO.ai's signal report for 'Polarization' over a three-year timescale and one-year future estimate.

Despite our fractured culture, humans still crave connection and shared meaning

Without common ground, we're using memories to bring us together. We rely on nostalgia for our sense of community, often coming together (especially online) with a shared yearning for simpler, happier times.

Who stands to gain from the 'nostalgia' trend?

Brands that can revive beloved memories with a product twist stand to gain. For example, Nabisco opened up a 2007-themed Oreos Blockbusters, and Pizzahut did an AR Pac-Man partnership. Companies like Mattel have even created entirely new toy lines for adults to remember their childhood; they call this demographic ‘kidults.’

You're starting to see the theme.

Are we turning to nostalgia to distract us from the most complex period in human history?  

Is our collective imagination being exercised only to remember our past experiences? Does this prevent us from using our foresight to create a shared vision for the future?

Big brands are focusing on our past

Last week apple launched its new mixed-reality headset. Meta is also releasing their AR glasses. Promotions for both consist of reliving history and personal memories in entirely new ways.

Is nostalgia just escapism?

For Gen Z and Millenials, maybe so. Their adolescence in the ’90s was, in fact, a supplier time. Remember going to concerts without everyone’s phone out? A pre-social media world, especially (1993-2000), also came at a time when America wasn’t in a declared war or major foreign conflict. Things felt more peaceful.

The complexity of our time is destabilizing

The below signal shows the sharp increase in consumer conversations around loneliness, climate anxiety, and AI worry.

NWO.ai's comparison of the signals 'Loneliness Epidemic' 'Climate Anxiety' and 'AI Anxiety'

In the midst of a loneliness epidemic, climate emergency, and AI boom, consumers are looking for comfort

Nostalgia gives them just that.

We've started using nostalgia to connect with something that feels safe—a tool to transport us to a less lonely and uncertain time.

The Key Takeaway:

Brands should aim to tap into the shared memories of their target audiences. Those that can offer their customers innovative ways to experience cherished memories stand to gain.

That’s all we’ve got for now.

Thanks for spending time with us on this week’s Inflection Point. We’ll see you next time.

Did this spark your interest? Drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.

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