Nostalgia as a Behavior Change Motivator

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Nostalgia as a Behavior Change Motivator

We know from our research and practical experience that if we want to create behavior change, especially related to the environment, we can’t use gloom and doom statistics. Many people will shut down and will fail to listen to our message, regardless of how dire the subject matter.

But what about nostalgia as a behavior change motivator? Not the nostalgia that comes from an old pair of jeans that are now a little too snug. And not even the nostalgia that comes from looking through an old yearbook.

I’m talking about tapping into the feeling that things are much different than they used to be, and not for the better. Let me explain.

Over the recent holidays, I found myself talking with older relatives about how the weather just doesn’t seem to be as cold as it was when they were children. And this conversation happened more than once. Stories of sledding, building snowmen, snowball fights and the like were reflected upon longingly.

Granted, these conversations were taken with a grain of salt. As often is the case with nostalgia, people tend to develop what Merriam-Webster calls “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to some past period.”

What is undeniable is the legitimate sense of longing exhibited as my relatives reminisced about the cold winter days of their youth. This leads me to believe that nostalgia could be a powerful behavior change tool, if used correctly.

We often find that people can’t connect emotionally to issues that occur outside of their frame of reference. Trying to get people on board with a cause that doesn’t directly affect them can be a losing battle. That said, what could be more squarely rooted in a person’s frame of reference than their memories, especially happy ones?

The key is to tug at heartstrings carefully. Tug too hard and you may get stuck with a campy message that would make Norman Rockwell roll his eyes. Too little and your message could be lost.

About the Author

Pat Lorentz

Pat is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and GreenBiz.com.

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Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.