Feeling a bit retro lately? You’re not alone…

Published on
February 28, 2017

Nostalgia’s right on trend. Nokia has just announced plans to bring back the beloved Nokia 3310, and late last year Nintendo achieved tremendous success with the release of Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) Classic, a device that to this day is still plagued by shortages at retail level. And GIFs (animated images) — basically 1989 technology — have had a recent renaissance despite the availability of HD video. So what’s going on?

Nostalgia has always been a ‘thing’, but is it becoming more popular? Is its rise due to the uncertain times we live in? And, what, if anything can we do to better resonate with those seeking a ‘blast from the past’?  Rowland Director David Everton threw this question to some of us — and we took up the challenge.


Dean Power, Creative Manager

Nostalgia says so much about the zeitgeist of the times we live in.

Whether it’s fashion, film, design, or video games, it’s so often a desire to return to what was perceived as a comforting, simpler , safer past. Other times, it’s the decision- and taste-makers trying to set an agenda to take us back there for sometimes socio-political reasons.

Especially in the realm of American popular culture, we’re already seeing (another) return to 80s nostalgia. Shows such as ‘Stranger Things’ have familiar themes of everyday people (including children) facing off against an often menacing and omnipotent government and military/industrial complex. It’s an oddly prescient show that twists Trumpian 80s nostalgia for an idealised past to hint at the darker political realities at play then and now.


Melissa Lemberg, Director, Integrated Marketing Communication

I have done a lot of moving in the past three years — from the other side of the city, to the other side of the world — and there’s one thing I’ve noticed during every move … I am a serial collector of paper-based things. Namely books. Big, chunky books.

There is something truly satisfying about seeing them all lined up on a shelf. Just the sight of them can take you back to a point in time, a feeling or place that you can’t get from scrolling through an iBooks list.

And therein lies my issue with e-books. I just can’t seem to break through that screen to make an emotional connection with the words it displays. Not to mention the act of physically reading a real book is fulfilling in itself — the feeling of paper between your fingertips and the sound of a turning page is just too lovely. Yup, I’m a little bit nostalgic.

As someone who dishes out words for a living, naturally I also enjoy consuming them, and it turns out I’m not alone in my love of paper books. In a recent article, it was reported that in 2016 unit sales of hardcovers overtook unit sales of e-books. So while words can be effective in creating a connection with the reader, we must also consider the full experience we’re offering in making that connection.

My prediction? The trend towards the hardcover book will flow into an increase in demand for antique bookshelves to hold them all. Sign me up to that list!

Rob Lovegrove, Head of Digital

Nostalgia feeds both rational and, as importantly, irrational decision-making processes when it comes to purchases or decisions, and is a classic reason why we need to refocus our attention on psychographics, not just demographics, in understanding how, what and why stakeholders think, feel and do.

To Mel’s point, the rational decision-making process in accruing books while travelling would be to purchase them electronically and have them stored on one pocket-size device. No extra weight in the luggage, no taking up space that could be filled with duty free, and in most cases cheaper than the paper-based version.

But here’s the beautiful thing about humans … we’re as irrational as we are rational, and in Mel’s case that’s born out of a nostalgic feeling she gets from engaging with a traditional book.

So while you’d expect a ‘Head of Digital’ to espouse and champion the digitisation of all communication, I’m focused more on understanding how we layer content and stories for different audiences and their mediums of choice so that we truly engage at an emotional and sometimes, irrational level.


Marcellina Powell, Senior Consultant, Integrated Marketing Communication

There’s a vinyl obsession going on, and not just in my household. In the age of music streaming services, vinyl records are expected to drive significant music industry revenue in 2017. When I say significant, I mean to the tune of $1billion globally.

While Spotify means you can stream (mostly) anything you like from any device, records elicit a sense of tangibility that cannot be replicated.

There’s something magical about picking up a large, fragile record, wrapped in tissue paper and cardboard sleeves, and adorned with carefully created album art. There’s something in the physical act of choosing a record off the shelf — a record you have personally selected and chose to spend real money on — it’s almost like you have a connection with the individual albums. Plus it just sounds better.

Given we recently spent a cool $100 on a Mutemath record — an ‘investment’ I’m told — we are more than contributing to vinyl sales, and hopefully more directly to the artists themselves.

My feeling is this thirst for vinyl is part of a wider nostalgia trend: Perhaps this yearning for tangible, well-made products is a way of pulling away from the disposable nature of consumerism. Well, here’s hoping so.

Janet Houen, Group Manager

Maps! Bring back the map … the good, old-fashioned, A1-scientifically-impossible-to-refold-neatly roadmap or lovely little pocket city guide that encourages you, nay … commands you, to think for yourself. On my recent trip to Europe with a 17-year old who had never used a paper map in her life, our only point of (mild) contention in a month of travelling bliss was navigation and pre-planning of our route and our day’s adventures.

And man, is this a generation gap.

Not that I don’t think Google maps are miraculous and have their uses. But I do struggle to get a grip if I can’t run my finger up the freeway, know which way that little north arrow is pointing, understand where the train line is taking me, orient myself by finding the nearest street sign, get a broader, visually stable view of what lies around, what opportunities are just over the next hill.

Whereas she was all about no advance reconnaissance, living in the moment, launching headlong into the unknown, relying on internet access and a scrap of screen space to get us to our destination. I found this disorienting, oddly unsatisfying. OK — maybe I’m just getting old.

I stuck to my guns … introducing a breakfast planning session with a real map on the table, a little discovery and discussion about what else we might find along the way, an orientation on terra firma and on good old retro paper.

In the wash-up, it’s all about being observant and having to nut things out, joining the dots, being a bit self-reliant. Giving humans the room to get the grey matter really pumping might be nostalgic, but maybe it’s an important thing for digi-designers and app gurus to keep in mind.


David Everton, Director, Government and Public Affairs

First things first, I am all for a phone where the battery lasts more than a day, and a video games console that doesn’t need to update itself every time I turn it on.

It has been said a thousand times or more, Brexit, Trump, et al. have been a vote of protest. People are fed up with the establishment and long for the ‘way things were’. With your average trip to the voting booth looking more like a ticker-tape parade gone wrong, it is no wonder many of us (almost a third) are voting early, It is clear exercising your democratic right used to be a whole lot more fun.

A retrograde move that could yield positive results would be a return to the ‘fete-like’ vibe at voting booths — encourage more people to stick around and have a democracy sausage, a scone and perhaps even a quick discussion about politics. In a nutshell – less corflute, more corn dogs.