On Feb 12. 2023, the commercials that played during the Super Bowl were lackluster in its usual standards due to an overreliance on nostalgia. ILLUSTRATED BY VIKRAM SETHI

The adage “nostalgia sells” rings true when it comes to the 20-year fashion cycle or a network reviving a beloved old property. However, if this past Super Bowl showed us anything, it’s that commercials and self-reflective nostalgia don’t mix.

Nostalgia campaigns are meant to make the viewer feel good by triggering a happy memory. Every time the customer looks at your brand, they should get that warm feeling all over again. That should be every company’s goal if they choose to use this technique.

However, advertisers often miss the mark when interpreting how they should merge both nostalgia and their product. 

When they miss, they miss hard. 


For instance, T-Mobile’s tribute to the late Olivia Newton-John was jarring. The reworked lyrics of the iconic song “Summer Nights” featured lead John Travolta and “Scrubs” stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison? Although it’s true that Braff and Faison were reprising their roles from last year, their inclusion didn’t fit with the company’s intended homage to a beloved classic. 

We are in an era of self-referential nostalgia saturating all forms of media. There’s a reason why it works —people don’t want to think about the state of the world and all the uncertainties that come with this type of reflection. Nostalgia is a powerful tool in the hands of advertisers because most individuals want to immerse themselves in a happy memory or a franchise that once brought them joy.

Most of these commercials that used nostalgia as a story-telling device were received positively, especially Michelob Ultra’s commercial.

The reference was “Caddyshack,” which is a masterclass in showing how to use nostalgia properly. With “Succession” star Brian Cox’s Super Bowl commercial debut, as he played alongside Serena Williams and other athletes such as Alex Morgan and Tony Romo, it was successful in maintaining its theme. 


As Kenny Loggins’ song “I’m Alright” played in the background, something consistent with the movie as well, the athletes played along with their “Caddyshack” counterparts. Even Cox threw in a reference with the famous line, “Well, we’re waiting.” And, as the commercial was about to fade to black, the camera panned up to show Michael O’Keefe, or Danny Noonan, hanging around in a tree. 

However, constantly relying on nostalgia to carry a brand or product is a cop-out. Although the world seems to be in shambles, nostalgia cannot carry us through these tough times. Instead of having our heads in the sand, this is the time to defy the status quo and get creative.

This applies to the industries we keep alive with our investments as well. Instead of allowing this type of marketing where targeting individuals supersedes creativity in selling a product, we should demand excellence.

“Clueless,” Zoolander,” “The Matrix,” “Caddyshack,” “Safety Dance,” and even the trailers that were broadcasted during the Super Bowl were heavy on the callbacks, featuring the return of popular characters such as Michael Keaton as Batman and Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.

It’s been a couple of years of nostalgia oversaturating commercials. It’s time for fresh ideas and if these older advertisers can’t use their creativity to excite us, then it’s time for them to step out of the way and let the younger generations reinvent the norm. 


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