The Nurturing Nineties—Nostalgia or something more?

You could have fired a canon in the office without casualty. The time was just after 1pm and the agency was observing the collective recess and power meeting ritual in Beverly Hills known as the lunch hour. But somewhere down the hall I could hear the muffled sounds of … laughter. Guffawing, actually. And it was laughter from more than one person.

I wandered around the corner to discover a throng of assistants gathered around a monitor in an empty office. Immersed in their content, they didn’t notice me standing in the doorway. I suspected that they were watching some breaking YouTube video. But they weren’t. They were watching an episode of Friends.

No. This is not a flashback from 1995. This was October, 2015. And the assistants were all under the age of 30. Most of them were in grade school when the episode originally aired. When I asked why they were watching Friends, they replied “because it’s the best show ever.”

Cast of Friends.

More than an isolated occurrence, content from the 1990’s is back en vogue.

In October, Nickelodeon launched The Splat, an on-air programming block from 10pm to 6am that features the best shows the network aired from the 1990’s. Think Rugrats, Ren and Stempy, Doug, CatDog. It is supported by a companion website to feed the 24/7 demand for the beloved programming of a Millennial’s youth.

In announcing the launch, Viacom Kids and Family Group President Cyma Zarghami said, “we have been listening closely to our first generation of Nick kids that are craving the great characters and shows they grew up with watching Nickelodeon in the ‘90s.”

Separately, in UTA’s representation efforts we have noticed a number of studios that are considering reboots of franchises that appealed to Millennials when they were kids in the 1990s. The strategy behind all of these projects is to re-engage with “grown-up kids” who long for storylines that shaped their worldview and the characters that influenced their identity.

In January, actress/singer Rashida Jones and producer Sunny Levine released a new music video for the single “Flip and Rewind” which incorporates multiple nineties themes. Said Jones in a Rolling Stone interview:

as every person approaching adulthood does, we romanticize and idealize the time when we had less responsibilities. This is true about us, but it’s also true about culturally where we are as a country, as a world. Artistically, politically, we’re in kind of a tough time, and the Nineties was kind of a dope place. I mean, Bill Clinton playing the saxophone, budgets were flush, the clothes, the music …


At first glance, the trend is a minor epidemic of nostalgia. And conventional marketing wisdom dictates that nostalgia is a double-edged sword: it can create heart-warming sentiment with consumers, but it can also make people think a brand is old. The truth is that nostalgia is not only a dangerous marketing strategy, its benefits are  fleeting.

But the craving to reunite with The Nurturing Nineties is more than an affectionate glance back. It is equal parts escape mechanism and threshold into the next phase of their adult life: settling down.

This trend is a powerful opportunity for brands to make a connection with the largest population of consumers on the planet by symbolizing not an era, but a feeling, a vibe, and a narrative that’s missing in the chaotic cultural discourse of the present day.

2 comments on “The Nurturing Nineties—Nostalgia or something more?

  1. Theo Wallace on

    In the Seventies, American Graffiti, Happy Days and Grease were part of a big wave of Fifties nostalgia. Ten years ago, it was Eighties parties. American teens and young adults seem to fetishize and recapitulate the courtship years of their own parents with some irony, but also, lots of sincerity. It’s a way to try adulthood on for size, borrowing clothes from your parents’ closet, before you realize that being a grownup is about more than clothes, music and dance crazes.

    • Larry Vincent on

      Sort of. What we hear in focus groups and depth interviews with Millennials goes beyond the usual nostalgia for the halcyon days of their formative years. They certainly have the same feelings, and they engage in the same nostalgic behaviors, as every generation. What’s different here is the way in which they consume and socialize about the content. The words they use to talk about it is as if it was current; as fresh as the latest episode of SCANDAL. There is more here than a longing for the past. It’s a currency of the present. The tone and discourse is different than the way a boomer might talk about the 70’s or an Xer might wax on about the 80’s.


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