Assistant Professor Ana Babic Rosario’s studies show that during a crisis, individuals favor nostalgia marketing

Assistant Professor Ana Babic Rosario

The economic and social shifts due to COVID-19 have incurred unprecedented conditions. As states begin to “reopen,” brands may be wondering how to market to consumers. With 14% of the American population unemployed, and businesses shuttering at a rapid rate, marketers must compassionately approach consumers.

Ana Babic Rosario, assistant professor of marketing, studies nostalgia marketing and consumption, which directly applies to the current crisis. Her work is in collaboration with two peers, Ela Veresiu, associate professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, and Thomas Derek Robinson, lecturer at City University Business School in London. Together, they observe that consumers tend to gravitate toward retro branding and nostalgia marketing in times of uncertainty. “In thinking about how to cope, very often consumers turn to the past,” said Babic Rosario, “which allows consumers to be more grounded and allows them a coping mechanism—a crisis management mechanism.”

To uncover nostalgia’s effect on consumers, the team looked into the circumstances in which nostalgia marketing appears. The team’s findings indicate nostalgia marketing materializes during broader, societal crises like environmental and economic disasters, geopolitical shocks, mass migrations and epidemiological crises, like the one we’re living in now. One academic article published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that individual crises such as social exclusions can also be a trigger. To pacify emotions, people seek connection with past, happy experiences. For example, during a crisis, consumers may gravitate toward the same cookies they ate in their youth.

Associations are not always affiliated with personal experiences. “This is something that scholars call vicarious nostalgia,” Babic Rosario said. “For example, I can be nostalgic about the Victorian Era in the U.K. because I’ve seen it in movies and I think I’m connected to people’s appearances and experiences of the period, and I sort of miss that, even though I’ve never experienced it, personally.”

However, nostalgia can also unearth negative memories that may create a disaffiliation with a brand. Sometimes nostalgia marketing just doesn’t work. For example, in 2006 the Australian Tourist Board recreated a marketing campaign from the 1980s that targeted a newer audience. This retromarketing approach was a flop. The newer audience didn’t experience nostalgia, while the older audience didn’t feel the connection anymore.

“(Older consumers) may interpret retro in a negative way, and say, you know, this no longer resonates with us,” she said. “But it’s also possible that younger consumers, Millennials or Gen Z, will respond favorably because they think a retromarketing campaign or nostalgic product packaging is something new, something creative, something they haven’t experienced personally before.”

So, how can brands use nostalgia effectively during this time of crisis? “We posit that marketers should tread carefully if they’re planning on using retro branding because of all these complexities that need to be further studied,” Babic Rosario said. “And we’re working on that as a research team now.”

Some of that research is found in an article posted by the American Marketing Association that highlights the Babic Rosario team’s research in retro packaging. Elements such as logo, font, copy, design, and color choices are all areas in which retro concepts may be integrated. Babic Rosario and her colleagues provide a brief analysis of three products to give a greater understanding about the potential of retro packaging:

Sony’s Walkman Headphones


Babic Rosario:  In 2017, Sony launched a Bluetooth wearable headset called Walkman. This retro product name is a nod to the iconic portable cassette player from 1979. By using the same product name, Sony pays tribute to one of its most successful products, and invites today’s consumers to think of the new headset as a modern, cultural revolution.





Disney’s Retro Apparel


Veresiu: In April 2020, Disney relaunched its 1984 Mickey & Co. apparel line with a sustainable twist to honor Earth Month. The retro clothing is made with recycled fiber from plastic bottles. During the travel restrictions caused by COVID-19, consumers can order a retro Disney t-shirt online to reminisce about past family vacations to the “The Happiest Place on Earth!”





Fujifilm Instax SQUARE SQ6 Instant Camera


Robinson: In 2018, Fujifilm presented its second instant camera. Addressing Millennial dissatisfaction with the lack of permanency in the digital age, the camera is able to print the classic, square photos made famous by the original 1948 Polaroid. While digital, the retro design of the Instax harkens back to the 19th century style box cameras.





To learn more about Babic Rosario’s specialty and her class offerings visit her bio page on the Daniels College of Business site.