3 ways to use nostalgia to engage audiences

By Jens Pettersson


Stockholm, Sweden


Nothing beats the good ol’ days, right? As many of you already know, the fascination of pictures from earlier days is huge for many readers. For legacy companies, bringing memories to life is one way to get closer to your audience. Not many new publishers have access to historical material, so if you’ve been in the business for 100 years, you can take advantage of that.

At the newsrooms in Sweden’s conglomerate NTM, we see great numbers for engagement when taking journalistic walks down memory lane. Here are three ways to use your archives to create smashing nostalgic material that will bring you and your audience closer together.

This Facebook group encourages readers to relive their favourite nights of dancing and entertainment.
This Facebook group encourages readers to relive their favourite nights of dancing and entertainment.

1. Nightlife and entertainment

An ordinary weekend before the COVID-19 outbreak might have included a night at the largest nightclub in Uppsala, Sweden, attracting more than 1,000 party animals. At the moment the loudspeakers are quiet, the disco balls don’t glitter, and the dance floors are empty. All the entertainment palaces are closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The situation has obviously increased the desire to share memories from ancient disco times.

The Facebook group “Minns du ditt nöjesuppsala?” (“Do you remember the nightlife Uppsala?”), created by the newspaper Upsala Nya Tidning, has seen an increase in members recently without any marketing.

I created the group a couple of years ago when I was working as an entertainment editor, and it has been of really great use to create journalism about old nightlife and restaurants. It all began by just creating the group and posting old photos of restaurants and nightclubs, asking the question “Do you remember this place?”

It organically attracted a lot of members, and the memories began to flood into the comment section. People told their stories and shared their own pictures. I even got a whole shoebox of old photo copies from one reader to use — a true goldmine since our own archives didn’t really contain many photos from the clubs’ interiors.

From that content, it was easy to create a lot of articles on the subject. They focused on the different bars, restaurants, and clubs as well as the people who worked in the nightlife industry in the past. We interviewed them, and they shared their stories. What kind of drinks were popular in the 1980s? What disco tunes filled the dancefloors in the 1990s?

When the articles were published, the Facebook group was an excellent way to distribute the journalism to a core audience of thousands of people. It was like creating a self-spinning ecosystem of nostalgia.

Comparing images from yesterday and today celebrates a city's development.
Comparing images from yesterday and today celebrates a city's development.

2. City development

All cities transform — some slow and some fast. A nice way to describe this by sharing and comparing pictures of important landmarks or famous houses from the past with what they look like today. If you can find old pictures taken from a birds-eye view, the same areas can be photographed again today using camera drones, which shows development over time.

Additionally, bundling a lot of old photos on the same subject can be effective. This is an example of a story from Upsala Nya Tidning on old grocery stores in the countryside, which drew a lot of interest. 

One of the newspapers in my conglomerate, Norrköpings tidningar, even has a dedicated reporter working the field of nostalgia. Both Norrköpings tidningar and the newspaper Corren also created Facebook groups to connect with interested readers and to attract attention to their journalism.

3. Old advertising

Watching old ads can also wake up memories:

Fashion ads: “Did they actually dress like that?!”

Car ads: “Oh, my parents used to drive us to the summer house in that kind of Volvo.”

Cinema ads: “Can you believe it didn’t cost more than that to watch a movie back in the days!”

If you have a digital archive of your printed newspapers, it’s really easy to create a series of articles based on different business segments with lots of pictures of those ads.

If you would like to help your colleagues in the advertising department, give them the same idea. I can almost assure you that the local car firm that has been in the business for 50 years will receive great attention with a nostalgic campaign showing their old ads.

To round up this nostalgia trip, I always use music to get in the mood. What I was listening to when writing this? My awesome playlist with the best nostalgic tunes ever made, of course. Tune in here if you would like to get in the same mood!

About Jens Pettersson

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