Nostalgia is a Multi-Billion Dollar Business... invest in it!

Why Michael Jordan's Space Jam is the greatest collaboration of all-time, how McDonald's drives long-term loyalty leveraging nostalgia, the power of community activism in re-launching iconic products... plus other examples across food & bev, retail, film & TV, music, and sports.

Welcome back to Meagan’s Newsletter: The Gen Z POV, where I break down trends, industries, and tech with a Gen Z lens every other week. I’m Meagan and I’m so happy you’re here.

Today, we’re talking about the power of nostalgia when it comes to business and making $$$, something that rings true especially for Gen Z consumers.

  • #nostalgia on TikTok has 91.4Bn views, detailing everything from growing up as a kid in the 2000s to what it was like to walk through a mall in the 80s.

  • Half of children in the U.S. play Roblox, and some of the best-selling clothing items in their digital marketplace are classified under the “Y2K aesthetic” (for 9-12 yr olds, that’s vintage 💀)

We’re also seeing classics come back across every industry.

  • Biggest box office successes? Remakes of iconic films or leveraging vintage IP.

  • Musicians going on tour? They’re touring and marketing their entire discography, not just promoting the new album.

  • New brands are popping up to take advantage of the vintage aesthetic, and legacy brands are bringing back iconic items to capture the cultural zeitgeist (hello McDonald’s szechuan sauce).

TLDR, Nostalgia is just good business. You tap into a multi-generational opportunity when you pull existing fans/consumers back into your universe & also tap into a new generation’s love for all-things-vintage.

Below I’ll share examples of nostalgia across industries (Food & Bev, Retail, Film & TV, Music, and Sports) that’s driving real value for businesses, and more importantly, how they’re capturing the cultural zeitgeist while doing it. Quick table of contents:

  1. Food & Bev: McDonald’s bringing back their 1998 Szechuan Sauce to create long-term loyalty on their mobile app

  2. Food & Bev: Dunkaroos & Coca Cola leveraging community activism for a nostalgic re-launch

  3. Retail: Generational audience expansion through collaborations & “drops” | Parade x Juicy Couture, Rowing Blazers x Warm & Wonderful

  4. Film & TV: Billions already captured by Disney & Sony re-making nostalgic IP, and more studios following suit

  5. Film & TV: The greatest QR Code activation in history with Coinbase’s $14M nostalgic Superbowl Ad

  6. Music: Why tour one album when you can tour… all of them? More fans, more 💸 

  7. Sports: What’s driving the sales of sports memorabilia? Not just the investment… also the nostalgia factor.

Now… let’s get into it! ⬇️

Food & Beverage

1. McDonald’s bringing back their 1998 Szechuan Sauce to create long-term loyalty on their mobile app

Companies often use exclusivity as a marketing tool to drive up demand from customers (“going, going, gone” mentality), and bringing back fan-favorite items from the past for a limited-time-only can create real momentum for a brand.

When the Disney movie Mulan was released in 1998, McDonald’s launched a tie-in to promote the movie, including a new Szechuan Sauce with every McNuggets Happy Meal.

But the real fun happens 2 decades later, when the szechuan sauce was featured in a Rick & Morty episode in 2017, developing a cult following nearly overnight. 45,000 fans signed a petition begging McDonald’s to bring back the famous sauce, the hype continued on social media, and people were dropping nearly $15k to get their hands on the 19-year old sauce.

2 months later, McDonald’s brought the Szechuan Sauce back for one day only, sending a personalized note & entire bottle to Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland which went massively viral (great use of social to really engage the broader Rick & Morty fanbase authentically).

However, there was a problem with this limited-time release… the hype was so big, that one day wasn’t enough and they quickly ran out of supply, creating a giant slew of angry fans who couldn’t get their hands on the sauce (good lesson).

McDonald’s apologized after the backlash and brought the sauce back a few months later, but where things really got interesting was Take #3 of the resurgence of the Szechuan Sauce in 2022… you could only get the sauce if you ordered from McDonald’s mobile app, turning it into a loyalty play.

McDonald’s has CRUSHED in the mobile app department, with a record 40 million people downloading their app in the U.S. in 2022 alone. While not all of those downloads can be attributed to the szechuan sauce, the theme of mobile exclusivity (or driving customers to a new channel) makes a ton of sense.

You already know you’ll have demand for the product, and that people will do nearly anything to get their hands on it (even spending nearly $15k for a packet of sauce…).

Iconic brands that have built-in fanbases should be channeling that nostalgic love (and even obsession) with their classic products into where the future of that brand will live. And in many industries, that’s places where brands truly own their relationship with their customer… not on social media or a 3rd party app.

2. Dunkaroos & Coca Cola leveraging community activism for a nostalgic re-launch

Another example I love in the Food & Beverage category is the resurgence of Dunkaroos! Mostly because of how they launched it. It is so cool when a brand actually listens to their customers and plays into the hysterics on social media.

Dunkaroos (a snack where you dip mini cookies into frosting) were popular in the 1990s and 2000s but were discontinued in the U.S. in May 2012. People then had to travel to Canada to get them or get their Canadian friends to smuggle them across the border, a point that the brand played into with their “smuggleroos” campaign in 2016 — hilarious.

In 2018, a tweet went viral from a fan claiming that Betty Crocker (owner of Dunkaroos) required only 150,000 retweets to re-launch Dunkaroos. That tweet got 200,000 retweets (yay!), but turned out to be fake with the challenge not actually endorsed by the brand (some creative editing on Luke’s part made it look like the official Betty Crocker responded to the initial DM). But nonetheless, it proved to the brand that there were real legs around the Dunkaroos comeback story, and even celebrities played into the hype.

Fast forward to 2020 (2 years post-fake tweet), and they actually did bring back Dunkaroos! But even better was how they launched it… a quote tweet response to Kim Kardashian’s response to the retweet challenge begging for the comeback of Dunkaroos… tying in pop culture icon Kim K with the organic fanbase reignited on Twitter. Iconic.

Coca Cola did something similar with the relaunch of Surge, their Mountain Dew competitor that was popular in the 90s… but instead of a Twitter challenge hyping up the fanbase, it was a Facebook group of 300,000 fans! Coca Cola responded to their pleas with a selective relaunch of Surge on Amazon & in select soda machines at McDonald’s and Burger King.


3. Generational audience expansion through collaborations & “drops” | Parade x Juicy Couture, Rowing Blazers x Warm & Wonderful

Juicy Couture was an iconic staple of early 2000s fashion — everyone wore their velour tracksuits. JLo wore one in her “I’m Real” music video, and the brand skyrocketed to fame when Paris Hilton & Nicole Richie’s show The Simple Life premiered in 2003 — in nearly every episode, the pair were seen wearing a Juicy Couture tracksuit. I’m pretty sure my mom never actually let me wear one (I had a GAP dupe in elementary school… sigh), but I played soccer with girls 6 years older than me where the tracksuits made a frequent appearance.

Juicy Couture brought in $605m in revenue at their peak in 2008, but were sold for a fraction of that just 5 years later, losing the zeitgeist it once had.

But like most iconic things that have the power of nostalgia… Juicy Couture is BACK. It never fully went away, but it’s re-captured it’s relevance through thoughtful collaborations to (a) introduce Juicy Couture to a whole new set (and generation) of consumers and (b) play into the power of nostalgia for their OG fans.

My personal fave was when Juicy Couture collabed with up-and-coming underwear startup Parade, which is “rewriting the American underwear story for Gen Z.” And as a Parade super fan who was never old enough to wear anything Juicy Couture branded, when I tell you I SPRINTED to get my hands on this collab… I really did. Even the marketing is iconic with the flip phones.

Millennials who maybe had never heard of Parade but loved Juicy Couture were just as stoked as Gen Zers who are excited about nearly every Parade drop that comes monthly… an incredible example of audience expansion leveraging nostalgia.

And this isn’t a one-hit wonder for Juicy Couture… it’s become more of a playbook for the brand to maintain relevance. Affordable luxury brand Ganni did a drop with Juicy in 2022 and was met with raving reviews from fans and sold out almost immediately. As Paris Hilton would say… “that’s hot.”

Another up-and-coming startup I’ll highlight is Rowing Blazers — known for their preppy classic attire & approach to limited-edition collaborations. I’ve purchased from a number of their collabs, but one that stands out is their collaboration with the brand Warm & Wonderful, known for their famous “Black Sheep” sweater worn by Princess Diana at a polo match in 1980.

The original sweater was designed in 1979, and of course popularized by the Princess Diana sighting. Even though she passed away in 1997 before most Gen Zers were born, she continues to be loved by the next generation — #PrincessDiana on TikTok has 15 billion views. Bike shorts trend? Revenge dress? All still attributed to Princess Diana, and made even more popular by The Crown on Netflix.

When Rowing Blazers collaborated with Warm & Wonderful to bring back the famous Princess Diana sweater, it instantly became a Gen Z favorite. I never knew who was behind the famous sweater, an iconic female duo, until Rowing Blazers introduced me to the brand. Now I have a Warm & Wonderful Black Sheep sweater, long sleeve polo, and even a sticker on my laptop (see below).

Fashion is cyclical, so it's natural for trends to come back... the same is true for iconic brands. Leverage the power of nostalgia and collaborations to introduce your brand to new audiences, reinvigorate your original audience, and find a new footing in sales.

Film & TV

4. Billions already captured by Disney & Sony re-making nostalgic IP, and more studios following suit

This section is best explained with stats to show just how much people love seeing their favorite films and characters brought back to life through a new lens. This is a trend that will just keep growing…

  • Disney's remakes have made more than $7 billion globally since 2010. I feel like this graph really puts into perspective just how much studios are leaving on the table when it comes to bringing back the classics in a new form.

  • 2 of top 3 highest grossing movies in 2022 are extensions of IP that broke into mainstream culture pre-2000, Top Gun (1986 original) and Jurassic Park (1993 original). As a point of reference on how important (and lucrative) it can be to tap into new audiences, my youngest sister is obsessed with Top Gun: Maverick and has seen it multiple times… but couldn’t care less about the original 🤷‍♀️

  • One of the most popular Netflix shows, Stranger Things, is set in the 80s and the nostalgic setting has helped the show appeal to a broader audience — the older generations enjoy reliving their youth, while the younger generation is being introduced to some things for the first time, including music. Kate Bush made nearly $2m in royalties after her song “Running Up That Hill” became a viral hit on TikTok and streaming after being featured on the show. 2.3M videos were created using the song on TikTok, with many Gen Zers hearing it for the first time on Stranger Things.

  • The live-action Barbie film will undoubtedly be the movie of the summer — killer cast with Margot Robbie & Ryan Gosling, Greta Gerwig directing, and one of the most beloved characters of every girl’s childhood. I grew up with the dolls (had my own Barbie dream hotel) and Barbie movies — my sister and I would quite literally do live reenactments from Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper, and we grew up watching everything from Barbie: Mermaidia to classics like Barbie Rapunzal, Barbie Swan Lake, Barbie The Nutcracker and more. This movie is going to SMASH at the box office and all my friends are going to see it when it comes out.

  • Harry Potter is the 4th highest grossing film series, bringing in $7.7 Billion worldwide from the original films. Not to mention, the series’ success in gaming has also been massive with Hogwarts Legacy grossing $850M in its first two weeks, the biggest launch ever for Warner Bros Games. It’s no surprise HBO Max recently announced there will be a remake exclusive to their platform… much to the fanbase’s chagrin given our love for the original cast. There’s even a planned boycott… but people will definitely tune in even if just to opine given the dedicated fanbase.

  • In my opinion, Space Jam (1996) is one of the best collaborations of all-time, tapping into everyone’s nostalgic love for their favorite childhood cartoons, The Looney Tunes (1930), and everyone’s favorite NBA legend, Michael Jordan. While this film came out before I was born, I fell in love with it during elementary school — it’s what introduced me to the sport of basketball, and also to Michael Jordan. Oh and families stormed the box office opening weekend for the sequel in 2021, Space Jam: A New Legacy, beating out Marvel’s Black Widow.

TLDR: Some things never go out of style, and if you have popular IP that hasn’t been remade in the past 10-20 years, there could be millions (if not billions) on the table. There have been 3 generations of Spider Man since the original in 2002, and even a Best Animated Picture win for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Great IP is going to keep winning.

5. The greatest QR Code activation in history with Coinbase’s $14M nostalgic Superbowl Ad

While still pricey at $14M for the advertising spot, I think this likely had the cheapest production budget of any Superbowl ad. Coinbase played into nostalgia in the best way possible, through a subtle reference that required very little effort to execute on: a DVD-inspired dancing QR code on the screen. It brought back nostalgic memories for millions of people who turned to social media to talk about the genius ad, AND prompted people to want to find out what’s behind the QR code.

So much so that 20 million people joined Coinbase’s site in 1 minute, crashing their system. It was also massive for the category as a whole, not just Coinbase — crypto app downloads were boosted by 279% after the viral Superbowl ad.

I’d argue it’s one of the greatest QR code activations in history… all thanks to nostalgia & creative marketing ❤️ 


6. Why tour one album when you can tour… all of them? More fans, more 💸 

Funnily enough, this ad (see above, top left) from Ed Sheeran’s new tour on my TikTok FYP was what prompted this entire newsletter. His new album Subtract came out on May 5th and he’s been heavily promoting both the music and the tour on social media. What I thought was interesting is he’s dubbing it The Mathematics Tour instead of just The Subtract Tour, as he did with his previous album Divide / The Divide Tour. And then shortly after, I noticed The Jonas Brothers were doing THE SAME THING, marketing “five albums, one night” instead of just promoting their new studio album The Album.

I like to think Taylor Swift is naturally the trendsetter here, as per usual.

Taylor Swift’s previous tours were named for her previous albums as well… Reputation Stadium Tour for her Reputation album, Lover Fest for her Lover album, etc. But after releasing her record-breaking 10th studio album Midnights, she announced The Eras Tour back in November 2022 as a journey through the musical eras of her career (past and present). And it has absolutely taken the world by storm, with 15Bn views on TikTok & people tuning into livestreams every night just to hear what 2 surprise songs she’s singing.

Again, this is just smart business. Taylor brought in a whole new fanbase when she produced Folklore & Evermore during the pandemic who love her thoughtful indie music, and then there are the OG fans who have been with her since the country days of her debut album and her transition from Fearless/Red/Speak Now to full on pop with 1989.

There is quite literally a Taylor Swift song/era for everyone (I will die on this hill), and when she announced her Eras Tour, she tapped into every single one of those fanbases (both new & nostalgic) to the point where the outsized demand broke Ticketmaster. One of their reps said: “based on the volume of traffic to our site, Taylor would need to perform over 900 stadium shows (almost 20x the number of shows she is doing). That's a stadium show every single night for the next 2.5 years."

My first ever issue of this newsletter was a 16-page deep dive on the music industry, which goes into all of this in way more detail!

But it doesn’t stop there when it comes to the intersection of music and nostalgia… how about the resurgence of vinyl sales?

  • For the first time since 1987, last year vinyl albums outsold CDs in units (41 million vs 33 million).

  • Taylor Swift is responsible for one in 25 vinyl records sold in the US., with most attributing to her most recent album Midnights. Oh, and her vinyl sales were more than the second- and third-highest sellers, Harry Styles and The Beatles, combined!

  • I myself have a little Crosby record player & albums from the likes of Taylor Swift & Justin Bieber, but also CSNY, Billy Joel, and ABBA… and a vintage typewriter, and a vintage camera, and vintage Charles Dickens books… sense a theme?

Music is timeless, and some songs never go out of style. My go-to song when I go out (which I always request) is Dancing Queen by ABBA which came out in 1976. And that’s basic by the way, not at all an original experience.

Last night my mom & I were watching the new Michael Jordan x Nike movie Air together, which featured a ton of music from the 80s — she loved telling me about the songs she listened to when she was in high school and how they tied into her memories.

The other day, Hannah Montana music was trending on Twitter, despite the show originally premiering in 2006. I still listen to Hannah Montana music by the way… absolutely 🔥 playlist.

The last thing I’ll mention here is upstart artist Yung Gravy, known for his 70s fashion but also his breakout song Betty (Get Money) which is heavily based on Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” from 1987… another Gen Z favorite (if you’ve ever been “RickRolled”… you know what I mean). Yung Gravy’s song definitely plays into the hype around the original song (even to the point where he’s getting sued by Astley for taking the sample “too far”), but that hasn’t stopped him from breaking into stardom and sampling other popular songs like “Mr. Sandman” (1954).


✨Betty ( Get Money) - Yung Gravy✨#betty #getmoney #yunggravy #music #viral #lyrics #fyp #foryou #song #popularsong #trendingsong #trending


7. What’s driving the sales of sports memorabilia? Not just the investment… also the nostalgia factor.

Let’s stay on the Michael Jordan train!

The pair of sneakers Michael Jordan wore in his “Last Dance” season in the 1998 NBA Finals were recently auctioned off at a record-breaking $2.2 million dollars, the most valuable sports footwear ever sold.

Jordan’s Game 1 jersey that he wore during the 1998 NBA Finals? Sold for $10.1 million last year making it the most expensive game-worn sports memorabilia ever sold and the most expensive Michael Jordan item ever sold at auction.

I want to laser in on the word memorabilia, defined as “memorable or noteworthy things.” These items inherently have some type of sentimental value to the person collecting the sports memorabilia, be it a connection to the player or moment in sports history.

Now it doesn’t say who bought these 2 historic items… but I have to imagine the buyer wasn’t purely driven by investment motives, but also fandom.

A Tom Brady fan bid $500k on Tom Brady’s final game ball (even though he quickly came back from retirement), and I’m sure there are hundreds of other examples not to mention startups like Momento Market purpose-built to cater to match-worn memorabilia sold to fans in a live auction (and raised $15m to build the product).

TLDR: Nostalgia is just good business, bringing in millions if not billions across so many industries. People love to reminisce on the good ol’ days, both with their brains and with their wallets. And in 2023 when Gen Z’s spending power is only rising with time, we’re obsessed with nostalgia… so now’s a good time to start thinking about it, be it through collaborations, bringing back old product lines, or simply playing into the nostalgic aesthetic.

And as promised, here are a few things (tech, culture & life) I’m intrigued by at the moment. It’s 3:30am so bear with me.

  • Tech: Stumbled upon a fellow Beehiiv creator this week named Rowan who writes incredible rundowns on what’s happening in AI. I particularly loved this recent thread with 10 ChatGPT prompts that will help save you hours every day! I did a poll asking people how much time per day they’re spending in ChatGPT or AI-driven workflow tools & of the 800 people who responded, 52% said <1 hour a day… time to boost it, myself included 😉 

  • Culture: Still on all-things Eras Tour content (the Bad Blood Taylor-defending-a-fan remixes are hilarious), and loving every minute. Also watched Queen Charlotte from start-to-finish & am back on Bridgerton TikTok… sorrows, sorrows, prayers (iykyk).

  • Life: When I say I’m back on Bridgerton TikTok, I’ve really been living it this weekend with a Bridgerton-themed afternoon tea birthday party. I wrote about “The $115Bn opportunity for content & IP-led studios” a few weeks ago to dive into the power of pairing products with great IP… and I am the manifestation of everything I wrote! My gloves & tiara that I wore? I bought from the Bridgerton Experience, money right into Shondaland & Netflix’s pockets. I also made my own custom Lady Whistledown society papers for the party, and can likely sell them as templates (big $$$ there!)… not to mention I’ll probably make videos and share them on TikTok, generating even more impressions for the Bridgerton IP. Fans breathe life into IP in whole new ways… shows and brands that lean in are the ones that win.