The Power of Nostalgia in Higher-Ed Alumni Marketing

This February, Netflix launched Fuller House, a sequel to the 90s TGIF classic, Full House. The show stars many of the classic characters and is even set in the same house as the original, bringing 30-somethings everywhere back to their childhood.

Fuller House was created because of the power of nostalgia. Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations”—and it affects everyone.

It’s no surprise, then, that many corporations tap into nostalgia to market their products. Pepsi and Miller Lite have come out with cans that revert back to their old logos. Honda’s recent commercial depicts the main character’s childhood fascination with cars.


Why do this? Most adults like to be reminded of simpler times, and these types of campaigns can help people relive previous, happy memories.

It can be especially effective for development and alumni relations offices to create marketing campaigns that play on nostalgia. When it comes to nostalgia for college, emotions and memories can run the gamut—whether it’s reliving glory days in a dorm room, in the college band, studying abroad, or having dinner in the dining hall. By invoking the right memories, you might be able to encourage an alumnus/na to attend an event, make a gift, or at the very least, have some positive thoughts about his or her time in school.

Below are a few examples of nostalgia-based marketing tactics your office can use.

Throwback Thursday (#TBT)

Throwback Thursdays are perhaps the most common use of nostalgia by higher-ed marketing teams. While most Throwback Thursday posts don’t contain a specific call-to-action, they provide a great touch point for alumni relations groups and help alumni reminisce about their time on campus.

The Oklahoma State University Foundation provides a great example of a #TBT post, illustrating how some things on campus never change:


Some schools are going a step further and finding ways to tie Throwback Thursdays to giving. Take a look at what Florida State University posted on Instagram in conjunction with their Great Give campaign:


University and college archives can be invaluable for finding great pictures and documents to highlight on Facebook and Twitter.

Create An Ask that Leverages Nostalgia

Can a school actually leverage nostalgia to compel alumni to make a gift?

The University of Portland (UP) found a way to do this through a unique campaign called Bluff Box. (Bluff refers to part of UP’s campus.) If an alum made a donation of $10 to the university, the development office would deliver a small care package to a student. But what made this campaign tug at the heartstrings of many alumni was the fact that the care package would go to the student who lived in the former dorm room of the alum. Alumni could even write a note to the student!

UP’s creative spin on typical development messaging—which asks alumni to make a gift so students can have the same great experience they had—turning giving into an even more personal experience for alumni.

Photo courtesy of University of Portland

An added benefit of this program was that it helped educate students about alumni giving. The lucky students who received a Bluff Box had tangible proof that there were alumni out there who cared about their experience and were supporting them.

So, as you develop your next big annual giving campaign, think about how you can leverage the feeling of nostalgia to encourage more alumni to support their alma mater.

Grab more alumni marketing ideas from Tim’s last post!

Tim Ponisciak is director of graduate alumni relations at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. Tim also runs the blog Alumni Catalyst and is passionate about promoting how higher-ed institutions can learn from marketing agencies, advertising agencies, and great brands. Tim loves old movies and board games, and is currently trying to visit all 30 major league ballparks.

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