Living in the past: Gen Z & Nostalgia
If you’ve ever felt like you should’ve been born in another time, you’re not unlike most of Gen Z. Reminiscing on the “good old days” or the simplicity of eras gone by is a way to escape, express, and create. During tough times, we turn to devouring sentimental television favorites like Friends or The Office, seek comfort in old flames reignited (hi, Bennifer), or indulge in the irony of Y2K trends. Nostalgia is the ultimate daydream that Zoomers don’t want to wake up from.
Gen Z is obsessed with nostalgia
Generations older than Gen Z are often described by future-facing qualities — Boomers are post-World War II, while Millennials are post-Great Recession. Gen Z’s childhood, on the other hand, is defined by terms like pre-9/11, pre-financial crash, and now pre-pandemic. We’ve unknowingly steered them to look to the past to define their own generation as they’ve grown up. With a timeline defined by tragedies, it’s no wonder Zoomers want to look back and connect over a childhood toy, a Motorola Razr flip phone, or a Beanie Baby collection. Their connection to the past is built into their generations' social DNA.
In the last year, 48% of Gen Z reported feeling constantly stressed. These struggles have only been exacerbated with the pandemic forcing us all to stay indoors, disconnected from friends and community. As loneliness, stress and anxiety have gone up, nostalgia has come to counteract them.
Zoomers ace the test when it comes to creating inclusive digital spaces. They have entire communities on social media platforms like TikTok dedicated to creating and connecting over nostalgic content, from revisiting old toys, computer games, TV shows, and aspects of popular culture that they have a distinct connection to. They remember learning the dance to Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” watching iCarly, and saying #YOLO to everything.
Looking to the past to build a better future
Zoomers are a unique demographic caught in the intersection of looking back (way, way back) and looking forward.
Known as the most woke and progressive generation yet, they care deeply about representation, equality, sustainability, and mental health — and they want the companies and brands they support to care. While the social causes they care about directly impact their coming years, their futures are also more uncertain than any generation before them. To escape the discomfort of this reality, they search for meaning in nostalgic comforts that mesh their love for the past with their desires for the future.
For example, Gen Z’s love for the past has birthed Instagram accounts like @2000sanxiety, the most literal intersection of past and future. Gen Z’s interest in all things vintage stems from their drive to live more sustainability, which can explain the spike in thrift shopping on sites like Depop and Poshmark to fight fast fashion consumerism.
It’s not just one era — it’s all of them
Zoomers are nostalgic about nostalgia. With access to endless archives on the internet, they can go back in time as far as they want and dream. Social media does it all for us, archiving our pasts as far back as when we created the account; back to the days when uploading every single photo into one Facebook album was a thing.
It’s called historical nostalgia, and it represents a longing for a time completely different to what Gen Z is living through now. Take any number of famous singers going back to their roots — cottage-core, anyone? — with new album releases, like Taylor Swift’s Folklore or Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods. Companies are doing it, too. Burger King returned to their original 60s logo. Microsoft, Lego, and Herbal Essences have taken to reminding their customers of the past, too — in a romantic way, of course. Playing Pokémon was a thing of the past until Pokémon Go took over by storm, uniting Millennials in their dormant love for the fictional world.
These trends reflect dissatisfaction with what’s going on right now. Gen Z fantasize about the good times of an era while detaching from pain points, like political and social strife, that they aren’t personally familiar with. Unlike their Millennial predecessors, Zoomers have lived their lives entirely in the digital world. They have no idea what life was like without it, making dreaming of it even more satisfying.
Let your brand do some daydreaming
Gen Z is a complex generation to market to. They’re actively changing the way we communicate with each other, and building completely new worlds that brands have to adapt to. Connecting to them is a two-pronged approach, that connects a love for the past with hope for the future.
They express their personalities and creativity by dressing for different eras, exploring relics from the early technology days, rewatching old TV shows and movies, and making content that calls to mind the creature comforts of easier times. It’s a strategy to feel better, and to connect.
There’s plenty of ways your brand can play into the nostalgia trend, like using retro colors, fonts, and filters. They all capture a feeling and help transport us back in time, when things perhaps felt easier and simpler. Revisiting happy memories — even ones Gen Z didn’t live through themselves — just feels good. It’s a path to expression and creativity, and it’s yours for your brand to tap into.
For more marketing tips on how to align your brand with the past, check out this episode of The Preview: Nostalgia.