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Remember when? Why nostalgia makes us spend more

Vintage this, classic that: From cola and cereal in retro packaging to T-shirts that look like your dad’s, companies seem to be on a perennial “throwback Thursday” kick with nostalgic nods to the past in toys, food and clothing styles.

Madison Avenue isn’t trying to relive the “good old days” just to be sentimental. New research finds that when people feel nostalgic, they’re not as interested in money — as in having it or hanging onto it, which is good news for marketers.

There are a couple of psychological quirks behind this. Nostalgia is a feel-good emotion, and warm, fuzzy feelings tend to make people place less value on money. Jannine Lasaleta, an assistant professor of marketing at the Grenoble School of Management and the paper’s lead author, explained that people can satisfy their wants and needs in one of two ways: They either buy stuff, or they rely on the people around them to provide it.

If you need a ride home from the airport, she wrote, you could pay for a taxi or ask a friend or family member to pick you up. You need money or friends to get what you want, but not both.

This creates a weird dichotomy in our brains, and we approach these elements as an either-or proposition. “If people implicitly think that their wants and needs can be satisfied either by having enough money or having enough social support, then having ample amounts of one should decrease the desire for the other,” Lasaleta wrote.

Earlier studies have found that prompting people to think about money gives them more individualistic and hard-working tendencies. Through a series of experiments, the new paper determined that when people had feelings of social connectedness triggered by nostalgic thoughts, their desire for money decreased.

“For marketers, feeling nostalgic leads consumers to part with more money or makes them less price sensitive than otherwise,” Lasaleta wrote. This is why marketers love going old-school. “Getting people to think nostalgically can entice them to spend money,” she wrote.