January 2020 was the first month in which Vinyl sales
surpassed CD’s since their introduction in 1988. Annual figures from the Recording
Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) mid-year 2019 analysis show that vinyl
records earned $224.1 million over the first six months of 2019, whilst CDs
earned $247.9 million. Whilst CDs are still in the annual lead as of the end of
2019, 2020 is likely to be the year of change. CD sales remained stagnant over
2019 and had declined in the years before. Meanwhile, vinyl records saw a 12.9%
increase in the global market in 2019, having already seen an increase in the
previous years before. If the trend remains, then this lead will be closed and
surpassed by the end of 2020.
This statistic ties in with the increase in nostalgia
marketing towards millennials. It is just one example from the profitable
business trend revamped in the last decade of using nostalgia to draw in
business. Instagram’s filters and square photos are reminiscent of polaroid
cameras; Pokémon GO garnered mass attention upon its launch; Bob Ross was added
to Netflix to mass enjoyment of fans both old and new.
This marketing strategy does come with a caveat. The item
has to be nostalgic but often there needs to be something “new” about it as
well. Pokémon GO reminded consumers of the old video games it was based on.
However, it was the new element of augmented reality which created mass hype
and helped sustain the nostalgic element. Simply relaunching an old product
won’t meet with the same success.
Vinyl records stay much the same as they always have; it’s
more the music scene that has changed. Vinyl seems novel again for those tired
of the transitory digital media, in a world where a lot of art is now
intangible. There is some debate about whether the sound of vinyl is warmer and
produces a better sound. Some are adamant that the continuity of the analog
signal compared to the non-continuous digital signal makes records superior to
their CD or digital counterparts. However, this is often contested and
regardless it cannot be denied that nostalgia still plays a big part in the
increase in vinyl sales.
Nostalgia marketing is seen in different ways. Rossiter from
the Drum Network sees it as, “tapping into an explosion of creativity from another
time”: a last resort approach ignoring the old maxim to look forward not
backward. However, business literature highlights the difficulty of pulling off
nostalgia marketing. Nostalgia differs between age groups and cultures so a
common memory needs to be harvested which hits the most customers as it can. Nostalgia
works because it is common but personal. Timing is also important: for some
products, this nostalgia element is most effective around the holidays or at
the start of a new school year.
Another previously obsolete music technology – cassettes –
are now seeing an increase in sales. In the UK, sales went up by 112% year on
year in the first half of 2019. Bershidsky attributes this to the media
influence of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie where the cassette became an
emotional plot point. The media can inspire a sense of contrived nostalgia for
younger generations that never had the original experience. In this way,
nostalgia marketers are not just limited to lived nostalgia.
This nostalgia trend can be seen in York itself. The gaming
café, Random Encounter, in York City Centre has proved popular among students;
offering up a mix of old and new board games and videogames reminiscent of
childhood to play whilst grabbing a snack. Record shops are littered about York City
Centre and there has been a surge in vintage clothing pop-up sales. If done
right, nostalgia marketing can also combine with other factors consumers are
increasingly starting to take into consideration when making purchases.
Consumers are increasingly more likely to take ethical and environmental
considerations into account when dealing with businesses. This can be easily
combined with the resale of vintage items.
Nostalgic marketing serves as a reminder that financial
efficacy is not the only consideration in business. Playing up the emotional
angle is proving to be successful. A record player is needed for vinyl and
songs can’t be shuffled as easily or played on the go, yet consumers are
willing to pay more for something like a vinyl which in practice is more
inconvenient. The feeling of social connectedness which arises from nostalgia
can make people value money less, and therefore be more likely to spend more
The nostalgia business is risky. In this instance, digital
media – the convenient and easier to mass-produce option - still makes up the
vast proportion of sales. However, if it is done well, products relying on
nostalgia and even obsolete technology can be very profitable.