What Can Nostalgia Marketing Offer to Brands in China?

“My Youth is Coming Back!” also known by its abbreviation, Yeqinghui (爷青回), is an internet buzzword that describes the joy of reuniting with your youth after being disconnected from it for a long time. With many older people fondly recalling the trends of their time, it is no wonder that Yeqinghui has become more popular over time. “Yeqinghui” even became the top bullet screen comment of Bilibili in 2020. The huge traffic brought by Yeqinghui developed into nostalgia marketing.

What is Nostalgia Marketing?

Nostalgia marketing refers to brands using familiar figures and symbols in their campaigns to evoke feelings of nostalgia and engagement. The nostalgic economy gradually became popular, with brands pushing classic icons from the entertainment and animation industry to the forefront in an effort to get people to consume their goods.

Post-90s are Getting Nostalgic: The Start of the Nostalgia Trend

Back in 2010, the CCTV Spring Festival GALA opened up with a new theme, ‘Nostalgia and Fashion’. To stay true to their theme, they invited 90s superstars, the boy band, Little Tiger and solo artist, Faye Wong to perform their old acts. The broadcast was immediately a hit, both netizens and the media called it the best-acclaimed performances of the show. This marked the first time consumers thought that the post-90s were considered something to be nostalgic about.

A total of 3 million people searched up ‘nostalgic’ classic animations in June 2020, according to Youku data. Because of this, cartoons from the 80s and 90s, such as Calabash Brothers and Mr Black became popular once again. The generation from the post-90s contributed more than half of the views for these cartoons.

Theatres in China have also started screening classic animations such as Digimon onto the big screen. The movie was an instant hit with Chinese viewers because of its nostalgic plot.

Examples of Brands Utilizing Nostalgia Marketing

Many businesses have decided to take advantage of the Yeqinghui trend and begun launching nostalgic-themed products and marketing strategies revolving around nostalgia. Lifease (a lifestyle brand under NetEase that’s favoured by the middle class) launched a joint beauty collection with the popular old animation Calabash Brothers. The collection featured hand cream, cushion foundation, eye shadow, lipstick, facial mask, perfume, and make-up powder. In all, there were seven products in the beauty collection just like how there are seven brothers in the cartoon.

An example of nostalgia marketing with Astroboy and classic cartoons.
Image via Weibo © 直男审美委员长

Another example of businesses taking advantage of the Yeqinghui trend is when Shanghai Maling, a brand with 90 years of history re-launched their classic products in this year’s May 5th Shopping Festival. This move by Shanghai Maling impressed and aroused fond memories of the consumers who were watching the event.

Why There’s a Bottleneck in the Nostalgic Economy

Companies still seem to follow the Chinese ideology of ‘cooking leftover rice’, which refers to when someone repeatedly does something without adding anything new to the mix. Brands keep producing the same things frequently, saturating the market with the same old products.

Quality of Current Entertainment and Products Declined

Pokemon is a popular animation that’s constantly on the global IP earning rankings. They have continually collaborated with other companies in making dolls, figurines, video games, etc., but the actual quality of the animation has been on the decline for a while now.

An example of classic characters used for nostalgia marketing. Pikachu.
Photo by Michael Rivera from Unsplash

Many manufacturers have been jumping on the Yeqinghui bandwagon, looking to tapping into the nostalgia market. Because of this phenomenon, there is a downturn in the development of new ideas and concepts. This lack of fresh themes in turn has consumers looking for entertainment in the past as there is no original content for them to enjoy.

Decrease of TV Animation

China has always supported the animation industry since 2004. But due to budget cuts implemented in 2014, the industry was affected and the production of domestic cartoons dropped sharply. Instead, studios and ordinary people posting their animations online began to rise. Online entertainment such as web animation and video games began to emerge. So as the amount of content begins to increase online, the government’s need for domestic TV cartoons started to drop off gradually.

Superabundance of Nostalgia Branding

Most of the companies milking the nostalgia trend however are just mechanically launching products with images that might trigger feelings of sentimentality and wistfulness. They tend to not think too broadly about their marketing strategy or care much about what they’re putting out, only wanting to quickly grab consumer attention.

Contents that are promoted under the Yeqinghui formula began to appear everywhere, but few have actually worked to move consumers’ hearts. People have noticed the excess of nostalgia branding and have gotten virtually tired of seeing products promoted with the same repeated method. Instead of invoking the intended feeling of nostalgia, people have instead begun to feel bored of the trend.

How to Effectively Use Nostalgia Marketing

Nostalgia marketing has proven to be an effective tool in connecting with consumers, cementing the fact that the nostalgic economy is here to stay. It is important however to remember the three trends in this particular economy. The three trends being that the generation of the post-90s is getting nostalgic, many businesses are using classic icons and products from the past to excite customers, and that collaborating with animations is one of the most extensive strategies when it comes to marketing with Yeqinghui.

But brands still have to be wary of the nostalgia market as it is beginning to be oversaturated. So what can brands do if they want to carefully utilise the nostalgic economy to their advantage?

To avoid boring potential consumers, brands need to analyse which particular trends people are nostalgic about and be able to adapt to consumers’ needs, instead of just slapping an image of a classic icon onto their products and hope it sells well. They must also analyse the different consumption levels of consumers in order to develop more products that have the ability to turn the nostalgic economy into the consumption norm

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