Nostalgia: The sneaky robber of your brain and wallet

December 15, 2017 - 6 minutes read

some July 2016, 4.a.m.

My eyes are all bloody and I fight the sleep though the fact that I am sooooo tired (and also six months pregnant) but I am binging on Stranger Things on Netflix like my life depends on it. I am watching 4th episode in a row and I can’t stop. No, it’s not only that the directors are amazing at cliff hanging me until next episode, it’s my brain that is sparking neurons like mad! Nope, it’s not only great story telling, it’s the 80s! Even though I was just a kid during 80s, seeing all the reference to this era was amazing:

BMX bikes, jackets (oh how I hated that jeans jacket, but I’ll get back to that), Walkmann, Rubik’s cube, Ghost Busters’ costumes, furniture, TVs, Supermarket where Winona works, Cassette players, Cars (my dad had the same Golf that Barb was driving, only in red) and so on and so on.

Watching that show was like a time travel to careless times when everything was so simple and worthy. Yes- worthy! I remember that getting a new pair of boots in 80s was a big deal! Also, making your own mix tape of favorite songs required some time, gee, even days of waiting for the song to play on the radio to record it! Ok, I’ll stop now, this post is not about “remember those times” (even though I really really miss the simplicity of back then), but it’s about the sneaky little robber that keeps stealing our brains and robbing our wallet: NOSTALGIA.

I have a friend who lives in UK (also born in 80s) who told me he found a website that sells He Man Action Figures remakes and he bought 60. SIXTY! No need to mention that his wife threatens with a divorce. Also, my husband is the one hiding behind our 1 year old son to buy him LEGOs. He as more Legos at this age than all my male friends had when they were 10. I sense that marketers have smelled the nostalgia money and that they are hitting big bucks! But let’s talk about the science behind all this.

There are actually two parts of the brain that are triggered by these nostalgic bombs: hippocampus and amygdala.

Hippocampus has important role when you are storing and evoking memories and this part of brain is usually damaged with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to “save files to brain”, you would be only processing things and not storing them, like when you forget to save file you are working on and your computer reboots. It would be no fun.

Amygdala is the one responsible for emotional reactions and their connection with memory storing and evoking.

Even though these two belong to completely separate memory systems, there are situations in which they work together dependently and nostalgia, as we call it, is one of these.

So, what happens in our brains is that those triggers are evoking nice memories and more importantly memories of nice feelings. It’s taking us back to a place where we are safe, sound and comfortable: to our past. You know when you smell a childhood perfume and BOOM- flashback bombs your brain so hard that you are almost certain that for a brief moment you actually went back 20 years ago. Your pulse rises and you have no idea why. Well, because it evoked memories of feelings and you got emotional surge. That’s what happens to your brain when you hold your childhood toy that you found in an old box or see your old bike in a garage or when you walk in your kindergarten building.

That’s what happened to me a week ago:

I wanted to go and ask about enrollment procedure for Kindergarten for my son and I went to the same Kindergarten building that I went to when I was a kid. The second I opened the door, I remembered everything. It was 27 years ago that I left this building and never entered it again until that day and still, I could remember everything. One lady asked me if she could help me out, I asked where the principal office is. She said “Upstairs, next to the gym room”. “Ah, I know where it is”, I said and I walked directly to that room through labyrinth of corridors. I knew exactly where it was even though I hadn’t turned on my brain or opened the “1990 memory drawer”. Weird. I talked to her and I went back downstairs to exit and I walked pass the storage lockers. They were exactly the same at the same place as in 1990 when I last put my shoes in them. And I knew which one was mine. I wanted to take a photo with my phone, but someone might think I am some psycho, so- no photo in Kindergarten. And then boom: the smell of the Lunch! Oh my God, it must be the Spinach with meat! Do I have to mention that I went to the store and guess what we had for lunch that day.

Back to Netflix and TV shows. The trend of this 80s nostalgia is going epidemic. I watched 10 episodes of German show “Dark” and in the last episode I saw the exact same table and chair that we had when I was young. No, I didn’t buy it online because of that, but guess who pays 12 euros each month to watch these shows. Me. And millions of nostalgic Netflix users.

Vintage clothing? Go to any apparel store and you will see something strange: loads and loads of 80s sweaters, high waist trousers, denim jackets with stuffing (oh how I hate that, but here is the one if you want to buy on Levi’s webpage for 128$).

Household items? Let’s talk Ikea. Look at this room from their latest catalogue. Recognize the style? I bet your father had a lamp like the yellow one. And the chair with wheels, do I need to mention it escaped 80s doctor’s office?

This 80s nostalgia rules the pop culture of our age and this trend is hitting our wallets hard! It’s one thing to look at old photos and say “ah, those were the days” and completely different one is to shop for that feeling. Shopping for feelings is more or less common knowledge among marketers and everybody who works in marketing learns this within the end of his first month or two, but not everybody understands how to monetize this.

Big brands obviously know how.

So, be ware of nostalgia. It will hit you hard and leave you poorer than you were before it paid you a visit.