Leveraging nostalgia in business

Emotional connection transforms digital experiences


by Leonardo Massarelli, CCO at Questtonó

As researchers, strategists, designers, and dreamers, we’re constantly looking at the world through critical lenses. We’re hyper-alert to services or experiences that challenge the norm and shift consumer perspectives.

Our Research & Strategy team has been producing mini-documentaries investigating themes that are being used by creatives to inspire and inform the future we hope to build. Unlike long text-heavy research reports, we decided to format our insights as a video to present our perspective in a more accessible way.

Nostalgia has become an increasingly present trend from TV reboots to fashion to brand identity. We’ve all experienced this first hand and we wanted to understand what makes this feeling so powerful.


What is the relevance of nostalgia for brands, products and services?

Living in a world that has fundamentally changed through technology, we’re seeing more and more people talk about the consequences of the pressures that come with being constantly connected and accessible online.

Although innovation is essential to prosper, such a drastic disruption takes time to comprehend – and innovation continues to progress exponentially. As a culture we’re becoming more anxious about how our choices will affect the images we so carefully craft into our online personas. As a result, our emotional wellness has become a far more complex issue to deal with.

Consumers are becoming increasingly selective about the kind of content and products they interact with. This behavior in many ways can be considered a defense mechanism. We feel the need to be selective about the brands, products, and experiences we partake in, otherwise we will be consumed by the infinite choices presented to us.

This is where nostalgia becomes a very powerful tool. Nostalgia has the power to create a bond to something in the present by projecting positive past experiences. Companies are finding unique ways to use nostalgia to make consumers feel more confident and trusting of revolutionary technologies and services.

When everything seems to be revolutionary and different and we have so many choices to make, great memories have a powerful impact on our collective thinking.

Where does nostalgia meet digital transformation in companies?

That can happen in many ways. When we produce a graphic interface (UI) or the consumer experience itself, if they’re charged with nostalgia, they can make us access our repertoire to digest the present better.

Let’s look at the analog filters for photo apps, for instance. A memory can automatically create emotional involvement and add trust to the experience.


Nostalgia can also make us connect better to services. With automated customer service practices, we often interact with chatbots that don’t necessarily communicate in the best language possible. Nostalgia can activate triggers to redefine these experiences, with minor changes to their language or any similar memory from a certain time to engage better.

Take Chick-fil-A for example. By location, they are one of the smallest fast-food chains in the US, yet they are the third highest-grossing chain, all while being closed on Sundays. They’ve achieved significant growth and loyal customers by promoting kindness and traditionally Southern values to the mainstream market. Part of their mission statement reads, “To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

This is consistently apparent at every location, and although it is subtle, they are building a devoted following through the power of nostalgia. In an environment that values convenience and speed over friendliness, Chick-fil-A brings the essence of small-town charm to fast-food. Employees are cheerfully polite yet efficient, and for many patrons, that produces feelings of home. The comforts of kindness and the promise (and delivery) of traditional Christian values that many people associate with their upbringing drives powerful brand loyalty.

Responsible nostalgia

In the digital universe, everything seems to pursue the same logic, a dominant aesthetic, a way of manipulating the elements of an interface. When all marketplaces and transport apps look the same, what can we do to stand out?

The human-first approach is to perceive technology as a means to deliver value to people. No matter what your business is, success should be determined only when you create a meaningful connection to the end-user.

To understand and create services and experiences that create emotional bonds with people, we must first understand the users past. What context did they come from and what universe do they currently embody? This is the process of user-centric design that allows us to predict what users will need and how to deliver experiences that resonate and maintain relevance over time.

Human first at its core

At Questtonó, we take care of this while doing innovation-related research. By understanding people’s past, we can build a better present for them and also project their future.


Recently, for a digital transformation project working with a large energy company, we went into deep Brazil to understand an underserved set of users. We were challenged to create an efficient and positive experience for paying their electric bill. To fully understand their context, our ethnographic research needed to not only look at their current context, but also understand their past experiences. Where did they grow up? What traditions and belief systems were their lives built upon?

Through this deep investigation into people lives and listening to the stories they told, we were able to create a belief architecture used to build stepping stones that eased the tensions associated with behavioral change.

By taking into account present needs and past context, we were able to design a new user experience that empowered users and built trust between company and consumer.

Nostalgia is a powerful design tool that facilitates emotional connections between people and experiences. It builds bonds between brands and consumers by tapping into the user’s identity – the identity of the life they’ve lived – or aspire to have lived. It provides comfort in times of uncertainty. It creates feelings of belonging in times of increased loneliness. As designers we should remember that the discomfort of the new becomes much more approachable when looked at through the rose-tinted glasses of our collective past.

*The mini-doc “How nostalgia is designed to influence you” is a Questtonó Research & Strategy team production, it was created by designers and researchers Maria Júlia Brito, Hannah June and Luiza Rudge, with forwards by Creative Director Leonardo Massarelli.