If you’re trying to decide whether or not to buy something, you could have a harder time passing it up if it reminds you of a happy moment from your past. According to a new study forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research, feeling nostalgic may cause some people to spend more than they would otherwise.
“We wondered why nostalgia is so commonplace in marketing,” write study authors Jannine D. Lasaleta, Constantine Sedkides and Kathleen D. Vohs in a July 22 press release.
It turns out marketers have figured out that provoking a feeling of nostalgia in their customers helps prime them to buy. It also makes people less price-sensitive, according to the study. So they’re less likely to shop around for a better deal.
“One reason could be that feeling nostalgic weakens a person’s desire for money,” write Lasaleta et al. in the release. Previous research has shown that feeling nostalgic makes people feel more connected to others and that causes them to become less concerned about their cash. People who feel more isolated, by contrast, tend to hold on more tightly to their money — perhaps because they feel they have less of a support network to fall back on if they run out. As a result, “someone might be more likely to buy something when they are feeling nostalgic,” say researchers — especially if those feelings of nostalgia make them feel more connected to other people.
Marketers, meanwhile, are capitalizing on people’s tendency to reminisce by saturating ads with wistful images and deliberately evoking memories of the past. “In 2012 alone, nostalgia was cited as a top trend in products such as toys, food and even Oscar-winning movies,” write researchers in the study’s introduction. “Nostalgic themes also have been pervasive during recent times of economic crisis.”
For example, “in 2009, PepsiCo launched nostalgic versions of their popular sodas, Pepsi and Mountain Dew. The so-called throwback beverages, based on original formulas and packaging, were meant to evoke sentiments of the 1960s and 1970s. General Mills introduced retro packaging for its big 5 cereals … An Internet promotion for indie band Arcade Fire let consumers enter the address of their childhood home. This interactive promotion shows actual aerial footage of consumers’ childhood neighborhoods and homes, evoking nostalgic memories of a personally experienced past.”
According to Lasaleta, Sedkides and Vohs, marketers are pouring heavy resources into stirring up memories of the past because the tactic is effective. For one thing, “Our findings suggest feeling nostalgic could decrease consumer price sensitivity,” wrote researchers. In addition, “feeling nostalgic leads consumers to part with more money when purchasing items than otherwise.”
Inside the study
The researchers came to their conclusions after conducting experiments that elicited feelings of nostalgia in their subjects and tested the way they handled cash. In one experiment, some participants were shown nostalgic advertisements while others were shown advertisements that evoked the future. Participants who viewed nostalgia-heavy ads were significantly more likely to pay higher prices for certain items than participants who thought more about the future.
In another experiment, participants were either given extra time or extra money and were instructed to give out a portion of that resource to other participants. In addition, participants were asked to write about either “a time they felt nostalgic” or about a time when they were just doing something ordinary.
The participants who reminisced were much more generous with their money, boosting researchers’ suspicion that evoking memories temporarily makes people less stingy.
Your bottom line
As with any retail or marketing trick, think before you buy. By being aware of certain tactics — such as a marketer’s attempt to lure you into spending by evoking the past — you’re less likely to be swayed.
The next time you go shopping, pay attention to what’s around you. You may be surprised by the multitude of tricks retailers use to entice you into spending.