The impact of ’90s and 2000s nostalgia on today’s consumer choices

A significant portion (72%) of participants in a study reported that nostalgic memories motivated them during challenging times. Picture: Good Faces /Unsplash

A significant portion (72%) of participants in a study reported that nostalgic memories motivated them during challenging times. Picture: Good Faces /Unsplash

Published Apr 9, 2024


Remember the days when low-rise jeans were the height of fashion and evenings were spent laughing along with “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and feeling at home with “Full House”?

Well, dust off your old yearbooks and mixtapes, because the ’90s and early 2000s are making a grand re-entrance into our lives and wardrobes.

In a world that seems to be spinning with global anxieties – from the cost-of-living crisis to the unsettling news of conflicts – Millennials and Gen Zs are turning back the clock to a seemingly simpler time.

It’s not just about reliving the trends; it’s about the comfort and security that come with them. This craving for the past is more than a fashion statement; it’s a coping mechanism known as the nostalgia effect.

Nostalgia, that warm and fuzzy sensation we get when we reminisce about the “good old days”, is proving to be a powerful force in shaping consumer choices.

It’s the reason why you might find yourself drawn to reboots of beloved TV shows or why low-rise jeans suddenly seem appealing again. It’s about recapturing the feelings of youth and carefreeness that those times represent.

Jonathan Spencer, the brand and campaigns manager at, shed light on the trend, with compelling research. He says that nearly half of all Gen Zs and more than a third of Millennials are frequently stressed and anxious.

Jonathan Spencer, the brand and campaigns manager at Picture: Supplied

“Almost a quarter of both groups prioritise reminiscing over future planning,” he says, highlighting the role of nostalgia as a soothing balm during turbulent times.

As Millennials and Gen Zs step into the spotlight as the new economic powerhouses, they’re bringing a blast from the past with them, and savvy brands are taking note.

This isn’t just a fleeting fad. Since 2021, the nostalgia effect has been a driving force in consumer behaviour, and it’s not hitting the brakes any time soon. It’s a golden opportunity for brands to connect with their audience on a deeper, more emotional level.

Why should brands get on board with the retro revival?

“Nostalgia has this unique power to evoke emotions and memories that create an instant bond between the consumer and the product,” Spencer says. “When people feel good, they’re more likely to engage with your brand and, ultimately, make a purchase.”

He elaborates on why brands should jump on the nostalgia effect trend:

Buy, buy, buy(ing into the past)

Fondness for the past translates into buying decisions. Research has found that shoppers are 52% more likely to make a purchase that makes them feel nostalgic, with many looking for products, trends or experiences that characterised their younger years.

Think Tamagotchis and flip phones.

More than just a trip down memory lane

Nostalgia fosters deep emotional connections with the items. They hold significant meaning, leading to increased spending driven by sentimentality. Studies even suggest that nostalgia could stimulate economies during recessions.

You’ve got a friend in me

Consumers also tend to remain loyal to products and brands that evoke positive memories, creating a bond that transcends simple transactions.

Take Mrs Balls Chutney, for instance. Despite being developed in the early 1900s, it remains one of the most popular chutney brands in the country, with its heritage element being a contributing factor.

Many South Africans have fond memories of boboties and braaibroodjies being accompanied by Mrs Balls.

It makes sense then that it is stocked in speciality stores across the world – from Singapore to Scotland – catering to South African expats’ longings for a taste of home.

Back to the future is here to stay

While Millennials and Gen Zs might seem fixated on the past, they’re also using nostalgia as a springboard for the future.

Nostalgic memories can inspire hope and openness to new ideas and experiences. A significant portion (72%) of participants in a study reported that nostalgic memories motivated them during challenging times, and 60% said the memories offered guidance when faced with uncertainty.

“Nostalgia also fosters a sense of familiarity and emotional connection between brands and their customers,” Spencer says.

“This bond is crucial for building brand loyalty and driving sales, especially during economic uncertainties. It seems that we all need a little nostalgia to get us through dark days and create better ones in future.

“A little nostalgia can go a long way. By understanding the power of this emotional connection, brands can develop effective strategies to engage with consumers and navigate the ever-changing marketplace.”