Mining the nostalgia trend, Sony celebrates 40 years of Walkman

The tech company was overtaken by Apple’s iPod years ago, but the brand still has a compelling story to share about its history with music lovers. Can nostalgia juice Sony’s bottom line?

Everything old is new again.

Sony is tapping into consumers’ nostalgia to grab headlines—and maybe sell some merchandise.

The company released a video on YouTube celebrating 40 years of the company’s iconic music player, the Walkman:

The video was a hit for many online, with users leaving comments like “Sony Walkman is the best in the world” and “Sony’s been a part of my music experience like no other.” However, the brand hasn’t been atop the music player industry for many years after losing market share to Apple and its revolutionary iPod.

Can Sony find a way back into the market?

The 40th anniversary of the one-time tech giant has resulted in many headlines steeped in nostalgia, but few mentions of the company’s current offerings.

 USA Today wrote:

Looking back, Wolpin says Sony’s boss Sir Howard Stringer had completely siloed the company’s divisions so that the electronics business was kept separate from Sony’s recording and film divisions. “This kept Sony from building an iTunes/iPod-like integrated music player/music store solution. Sony would have been the only potential competitor to Apple had the Sony hardware and Sony content people been able to talk to each other.”

On its 40th anniversary, the Walkman is a faded brand, but one that still conjures up mostly fond memories to a certain generation.

CNN’s story was just a rehash of an article it ran for Walkman’s 35th anniversary. NPR rhapsodized in its trademark melancholic way.

Sony is leaning in, offering an exhibition about the history of its iconic product in Japan.

The Japan Times wrote:

The event at Ginza Sony Park, dubbed “#009 Walkman in the Park,” displays 230 Sony Walkman devices ranging from the first model, the TPS-L2, to some recent ones.

“Walkman is the strongest representative of the company, and the products have shaped the unique, creative and innovative Sony brand,” Daisuke Nagano, president of Sony Enterprise Co., said during a media preview.

“Customers’ memories generated through our Walkman product are what we should always keep in mind regardless of how the company proceeds to survive in this highly competitive business field with the presence of free music apps out there.”

Nagano added that the exhibition also offers a chance to listen to past Walkman models, as opposed to previous events where the products could only be viewed.

Sony isn’t alone in trying to tap into consumers’ nostalgia to win new fans and generate buzz around a historic company and its products. Coca-Cola announced it would offer a glimpse into its past with a limited run of New Coke. Pizza Hut is bringing back an old logo to remind customers of the good times.

Is nostalgia marketing the way of the future? Some research suggests that reaching into the past can grab a surprising demographic: millennials.

Forbes wrote:

Why are nostalgia-centric campaigns resonating with the millennial audience? Reliving positive memories and beloved icons from the past feels good.  Alongside hectic work schedules, unrelenting responsibilities, and more, fond memories make us smile—and that leaves us open to brand messaging. When we feel or care for something, we’re much more likely to act. Share a compelling blast from the past with a millennial, and you’re likely to reach them on an emotional level—the holy grail of brand marketing.

In an age of impersonal digital media, building social connectedness through nostalgia is an easy way for companies to leverage the optimistic feelings that often accompany walks down memory lane. Associating brand messaging with positive references from the 90s, 80s—and even the 70s—humanizes brands, forging meaningful connections between the past and present.

Where nostalgia resonates

Just because you’re looking into the past doesn’t mean you shouldn’t forget your 21st century messaging channels, though.

Forbes also wrote:

The popularity of memory-triggering features on social media platforms attest to the desire of people not only wanting to reflect on the glory days but to do so with friends and family. Facebook’s On This Day app and hashtags like #TBT (throwback Thursday) are popular ways to awaken recollections while establishing stability and longevity. Here are several ideas for how to use this strategy effectively.

  • Location: Feature images of blueprints, construction, renovations or your building before it was your place of business
  • Team: With permission, share team member’s throwback photos and ask followers to guess who is featured or post a caption. (This tactic also encourages your team to become more involved in your social media efforts, widening your audience and engagement.
  • Customers: With permission, include images of your customers visiting your location or using your product. If possible, share user-generated photos and credit the user for their image.
  • Advertisements: Post vintage print ads, posters, magazine ads, original product packaging and such.
  • Events: This could include industry events your company has participated in or even community events.

Make consumers feel

Nostalgia marketing is effective because it leaves audiences with an emotional reaction.

Business Times reported:

Ogilvy’s chief strategy officer for Asia, Benoit Wiesser, says nostalgia marketing works well when people feel that their best days are behind them and the future is bleak.

“It is done by tapping into a tension that people feel, and giving them a slice of the past to soothe them,” he says.

In general, nostalgia marketing has seen more success in Western mature markets that are experiencing slower economic growth and higher unemployment. Asia, on the other hand, underwent a massive transformation in the past 20 years where people strove to better their lives.

“Brands connected with people by helping them move forward, rather than looking back at the ‘good old days’,” Mr Weisser points out.

Nostalgia can offer a great opportunity for communicators to flex their storytelling muscles. Just be sure to feature your call to action prominently so you can prove the value of your efforts to skeptical leaders. Sony still sells a Walkman 40 years later, but whether this anniversary celebration will translate into new sales remains murky at best.

What do you think of Sony’s nostalgic trip down memory lane, PR Daily readers?

(image via)

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