Nostalgia Part Two: The origins, relevance and modern-day power of nostalgia

Nostalgia Part Two: The origins, relevance and modern-day power of nostalgia

Following on from Nostalgia Part One: Why now is the time for creatives to get nostalgicWill Holloway, deputy creative director at Fever, an Unlimited Agency, delves deeper into the history of nostalgia and why it is such a powerful creative tool.

So we're getting nostalgic about nostalgia...

What is nostalgia and why is it such a powerful creative tool in the current climate?

The term ‘nostalgia’ was first used in 1688 by a Swiss physician looking for a way to explain the mental and physical illness experienced by the Swiss mercenaries he was treating. He attributed these illnesses to the manic longing these men felt to return home that they felt while fighting wars abroad.

Nostalgia is derived from the Greek words nostos meaning home and algos meaning pain. The Czech author Milan Kundera summed it up quite succinctly when he described nostalgia as “the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”

It’s funny to think that something we now consider to be such a warm and positive emotion was first considered to be a neurological malady or a form of suffering. In fact, at the time they thought it was caused by the trauma of hearing the clanging of cowbells in the Alps one too many times (this is actually true).

Today we're more familiar with nostalgia as the perfect tonic for moments of transition and we’re undoubtedly going through one at the moment – nostalgic thoughts are particularly prevalent in our lives when we’re facing upheaval – that’s why nostalgic thoughts are shown to rise among young people leaving home for the first time.

If the above wasn’t enough to convince you about why creative should be getting nostalgic right now then here’s some other proof of the power and relevance of nostalgizing in 2020:

Creative Freedom

At a time when there’s so much we can’t or haven’t been able to do – nostalgia is a force that says ‘you can’! Nostalgia gives creatives permission to imagine, reimagine and remember anything they like from the past as long as it’s relevant to the story they’re telling.

It’s Open To Interpretation

90s nostalgia, that’s so prevalent at the moment, is a great example of something that is experienced completely different depending on your age – Gen X remember it in a slightly post-modern ironic way, millennials remember it through memes, Gen Z who didn’t experience it first-hand take the bits they like and run with them. There’s no ‘right take’ on how to use it, there are definitely wrong ones though – see Budweiser’s recent slightly lazy attempt to make ‘Whassup’ happen again.

It’s Universal

Nostalgia is a global phenomenon and is felt as keenly by people in Europe as it is in Africa or Asia. Although the cultural nuances may be different – the stories that make us feel nostalgic are the same the world over – they’re things we all experience — remembering stories about friends and family, summer holidays, weddings, birthdays, sunsets and oceans.

It’s Frequent

Most people experience nostalgia at least once a week, and nearly half experience it three or four times a week.

It’s Ageless

Studies have shown that children as young as seven experience nostalgic thoughts – that means the right type of nostalgic campaign can appeal to anyone from that age upwards!

It’s Warming

We often think of visions of the past as giving us a warming glow – studies from the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands showed that listening to the right nostalgic songs can actually make people feel physically warmer.

It Can’t Be Taken Away

Nostalgia is that it provides us something that can’t be taken away – our memories. Even when things are bleak, the skies are grey and you’re at your lowest ebb – you can always nostalgize to a time when things weren’t as bad.

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