UK consumers’ occasionally misguided nostalgia is an opportunity for advertisers, writes Helen Rose, Head of Insight & Analytics at the7stars.

We are a nation of nostalgists. At least, this was our hypothesis when earlier this year we partnered with YouGov to conduct a piece of research into why the UK is so keen to spend our time looking back to the past, instead of ahead to the future.

More importantly, we wanted to understand the specific cues, cultural symbols and behaviours which most represent our favourite decades, and get to grips with how advertisers could use these to their advantage. We recently launched the results of this study with lively and discussion-filled panel events in both Manchester and London.

Our latest whitepaper, ‘Nostalgia – is it what is used to be?’, has unearthed that 55% of Brits would rather go back to the past than travel ahead to the future, with a mere 28% desiring a quick fast forward. Nine in 10 reminisce overall, and there is a cohort of misty-eyed millennials who are almost always looking back fondly. This isn’t, however, always a past they were part of.

One of our most interesting findings was around the sheer scale of ‘fauxstalgia’ – where we dream and pine after a period within which we didn’t even live. For example, 58% of those who were positive about the 1950s weren’t even alive at that time, and as such were perhaps more shielded from the social and political realities of living during that decade.

Brands therefore should proceed with caution to avoid bringing aspects of the past that are less favourable or progressive to the fore. Netflix is a provider for whom the past is making business sense in the present. Despite its subscriber base being 53% more likely to be under-35 than the national average (source: TGI 2019), some of its most successful content is based in the 1980s, a period during which their audiences barely lived. Bandersnatch, Stranger Things and GLOW are some notable examples.

Despite their 80s mania, the 1990s was unanimously our favourite decade. Recent enough to be of relevance to many, but not associated with the global economic crisis that marred the ‘noughties’, it is most closely associated with Friends being on TV, and the new wave of advances in technology such as mobile phones and the internet. Standout mentions remained, however, for the Spice Girls and the battle of Britpop.

There is also the danger (and opportunity) associated with the prevalence of ‘NOT-stalgia’. This is a phenomenon whereby people remember things, or claim to remember things, which weren’t actually authentic to the time itself.

In this instance, brands can have creative licence to produce new content or products which use the cultural symbols and iconography of the past, but in a new, fluid interpretation. The crux of this is in the weakness of human memory – we don’t remember the details, but more how we felt at the time. This is why scents and sounds are such powerful cues towards our memories – and helps to partly explain the dominance of music within Brits’ surfaced memories of each decade.

Whichever way that you view it, this desire to escape the present is unlikely to be short-lived. Dr Kate Stone made the bold claim that the future will look more like the past than the present”, so perhaps we should be dusting off those record players, vintage fashions and bringing brand heritage to the fore.