Speak to a CTV Expert

Advertising, Connected TV

Rad-vertising, or How Streaming Services and Brands are Using 90s Nostalgia To Drive Performance

A look at the ways TV networks, movie studios, streaming services and advertisers are leveraging the past.

Rad-vertising, or How Streaming Services and Brands are Using 90s Nostalgia To Drive Performance

5 Min Read

Nostalgia can be powerful. It helps people to remember things or situations that are familiar, and often instills a sense of security—something we all could probably use after the uncertainty of the last two-plus years. So, it’s not surprising that nostalgia is popping up everywhere right now—in advertisements, on TV and in returning fashion trends (we’re looking at you butterfly clips and baggy jeans).

Television networks, movie studios, streaming services and advertisers are riding the totally tubular nostalgia wave with the intention of increasing viewer engagement. Specifically catering to Millennial consumers with imagery and messaging reminiscent of 90s/2000s culture.

Nostalgia. It’s What’s on Your Screen.

NBC has high hopes that nostalgia will drive its fall lineup—this week, the network launched the reboot of the popular show “Quantum Leap” which originally ran from 1989-1993. NBC is looking to boost viewership on its linear network and accompanying streaming service Peacock, by revitalizing Quantum Leap, while ensuring the show retains its old charm.

“We kept hearing from people, [about] the nostalgia, and even people who would be too young to have known the original, they had still heard about it,” Frances Berwick, chairman, entertainment networks, NBCUniversal television and streaming, told Adweek.

Should this gamble prove successful for NBC, the network won’t be the first to effectively use nostalgia as a way of engaging viewers—this year’s biggest movie to date is a reboot of sorts. Since its May 2022 release date, “Top Gun: Maverick” has grossed $709M+. While the “Top Gun” (1986) sequel is set in the present day, the movie is reminiscent of its 1980s roots, featuring high-waisted straight leg jeans and aviator sunglasses, and topped off by Miles Teller’s luxurious mustache.

The success of “Top Gun: Maverick” may not be due in full to the nostalgic callbacks to the OG film, but they certainly add to the overall vibe of the movie.

Streaming Services Leverage the Past To Drive Future Performance

Top streaming players like Netflix and HBO Max also understand the positive effects that nostalgia can have on consumers—both services have leaned heavily on reboots to drive viewership in recent years.

While Netflix’s update of “Gilmore Girls” was met with mixed reviews, “Queer Eye”—a new take on the early 2000’s “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy”—has become one of the streaming giant’s most beloved shows. Another reboot hit for Netflix was “Fuller House”, which ran from 2016-2020. Similar to “Top Gun: Maverick”, “Fuller House” leaned into nostalgia from its parent show “Full House” in order to appeal to Millennial audiences and beyond. Though it didn’t experience the acclaim of “Full House”, “Fuller House” did its part in driving audience numbers for Netflix.

In 2021, HBO Max released a fresh adaptation of one of the most talked about shows of the early 2000s—”Gossip Girl”. Focused on telling Gen Z stories this go around, the new version appeals to viewer nostalgia with Kristen Bell returning as the voice of Gossip Girl and the new leads continuing to hang on the iconic steps of The Met. And, let us not forget the reboot of “Sex and the City” (SATC). “And Just Like That” played to fans’ nostalgia with plentiful references to the original series and accompanying movies, and did its best to stay true to the identities of leading characters Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda. Despite being questioned by many, something must’ve resonated with the SATC fanbase—“And Just Like That” was renewed for a second season.

Not to be left out, Amazon Prime has produced its own form of TV screen nostalgia with “Lord of the Rings” (LOTR) prequel “The Rings of Power”. While the show is set thousands of years before the events in LOTR, “The Rings of Power” is not dissimilar in feel to the widely-popular movies that came out in the early 2000s (who didn’t love Orlando Bloom in a blonde wig?). The overall success of the show is yet to be seen, but so far it has performed well, with the series premier drawing more than 25M viewers.

The Use of Nostalgia as an Advertising Tool

It’s not just shows and movies that are full of nostalgia right now—advertisers are also leveraging memories of the past to increase consumer engagement and brand loyalty.

Sport’s biggest day on television is no exception. Year after year, many brands who purchase Super Bowl ad slots lean heavily on nostalgia to elicit emotional responses in viewers. This was particularly evident in 2022’s advertisements. For example:

  • Chevrolet recreated the opening sequence of “The Sopranos” in an ad for the all-electric Chevy Silverado.
  • FTX (crypto currency exchange) used Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to speak to how crypto is ready for wider use by the public.
  • Verizon had Jim Carrey appear as his character from “The Cable Guy” to tout Verizon’s ultrafast 5G wireless network.

Outside of the Super Bowl, a number of major brands have taken a page out of the past as a part of their ad strategies. Office supplier Staples recently tapped Ace of Base’s 1992 hit “The Sign” for its new ad jingle. Earlier this year, Pepsi built an entire promotional campaign around nostalgia for the 30th anniversary of Crystal Pepsi (feel old yet?). Using decade-specific imagery and the hashtag #showsusyour90s, the beverage company asked fans to post a picture of themselves from the 90s for the chance to win a bottle of Crystal Pepsi, which was discontinued in 1994.

Utilize Connected TV To Target Different Generations

90s and 2000s messaging may be all that and a bag of chips right now, but advertisers should be thinking about how they can leverage nostalgia to engage consumers from all generations. Advertising on Connected TV (CTV) could be the perfect solution for this.

The comprehensive audience building capabilities of CTV advertising allow brands to hyper-target viewers. Knowing this, advertisers can take nostalgia marketing to the next level by creating generation-specific ad messaging and then targeting viewers accordingly. For instance, if 90s/2000s messaging doesn’t resonate with Baby Boomers—no problem! With CTV, you can develop ads that speak to pieces of the past that will elicit nostalgia specifically in Baby Boomers—think popular shows like “The Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island”, cultural events like Woodstock or historical events like the moon landing—and then target television screens in households that contain Baby Boomers.