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  • alanjohnarmstrong

All aboard the 90's nostalgia pendulum

“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent… It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone… It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” (Don Draper, Mad Men)

On Saturday night, I sat down with my family at 5:50pm to watch the latest reboot of Gladiators (now on BBC). The impactful theme tune instantly whisked me back to being 12 years old watching the likes of Wolf, Warrior, and Jet battle it out with members of the public under the watchful eye of John Fashanu and John Sachs. Thankfully, the rest of the show did not disappoint, it oozed with nostalgic references from the costumes to the referee, to the challenges, to the giant foam fingers in the crowd…. and in the end, I was more excited and invested in the show then my two kids. According to BBC figures, over 6.5m people tuning in to watch it live making it one of the most watched shows on TV for a long while.

This was not just luck, there is a solid marketing reason for this….

It’s called ‘The Nostalgia Pendulum: A Rolling 30-year Cycle of Pop Culture Trends’ first scribed by Patrick Metzger. In his article written for the Patterning (link in footer) there are several reasons why the nostalgia pendulum works, the theory goes that after about 30 years, you’ve got a real market of people with high disposable income who are nostalgic about their childhoods. They yearn back to an era pre-kids, mortgage, relationships, and responsibilities and thus try to recreate that feeling of being young again. According to research from YouGov and the The7Stars, 55% of those surveyed said they would choose to return to the past if time travel were possible. Not only that, but Millennials also say they reminisce about the past more frequently than older age groups.

Metzger goes on to argue that since most fashionable creators around them grew up in the same period, they start mirroring each other’s work and create “...a kind of feedback loop where all parties involved want to contribute more and more work that revives that same zeitgeist,” Hence the current trend around 90’s clothes, music, movies, and TV shows all start to trend again at the same time!

As a generation, Gen Z (born 1997 to 2006) are the most nostalgic amongst us, with 15% feeling that they’d prefer to think about the past rather than the future. Millennials (those born 1980-1997) aren’t much further behind at 14%, and the preference continues to taper off with age. Gen Z and millennials are driving nostalgia in the media too (hence BBC’s decision to reboot Gladiators is no accident). Gen Z are in the lead again with 50% of this generation feeling nostalgic for types of media, followed by 47% of millennials.

I am the epitome of this trend right now, every Summer I go to a 90’s festival at Luna Springs hosted by the likes of 5ive, Atomic kitten and Phats & Smalls and rave on tabletops alongside Baby-D (not me I promise). I’ve also just treated myself to some Nike AirMax 97’s and still proudly display my Corinthian football figures on my shelves behind my workstation.

From a hospitality perspective, I see the “30-year nostalgia pendulum” as a huge opportunity and consideration for any operator or brand right now. Look at the current succuss of Simmons bars; a London cocktail bar brand with a distinct footprint in the 90’s. Whether it’s the grange hill style desks, the school jotter drinks menus, nostalgic references across their website or simply the music they play – Simmons know what their customers want and deliver it consistently every day, I mean look at their recent Christmas trading figures of +16% LFL!

A recent study commissioned by Eventbrite found that 78% of millennials prefer to spend more money on experiences than on material things. According to the Eventbrite study, the benefits of opting for experiences is deeply personal. Eight in ten Millennials said experiences help shape their identity and create lifelong experiences. The Brunch club are good example of a brand driving nostalgic experiences right now – a strong line-up of successful singalong themed brunches across the UK such as 90’s baby brunch, Mean girls, Disney and Spice girls, all tactically aimed at 30-50 year old “Cinderella clubbers” looking for a big day out on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon before being back in bed by midnight so they wake up fresh the next day for the reality of kids, spouse, life, work kicks in again.

So… if you’re a hospitality brand, supplier or operator scratching your head right now on how to drive relevancy, footfall, sales, or engagement – have a think on how you can use the “nostalgia pendulum” and the “30-year-rule” to influence your campaigns, activations and content for 2024 and if you need any help, why not hire someone who was born in 1980, wears Nike AirMax 97’s and still plays with wrestling and ghostbuster figures. You know who to call 😉

Sources and credit for research:

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