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Nostalgia Can Ruin Consumers’ Appetite for Automated Products. How Should Marketers Respond?

Nov 10, 2022
Steve Hoeffler explores ways that marketers may combat negative associations of automated products

By Lacie Blankenship

In “the good old days,” people had to actively mow lawns, make coffee, drive cars, and vacuum floors. Today’s technological advancements of automated products like self-driving cars (i.e., the Waymo Driver), coffee makers (i.e., the Keurig), and home robots (i.e., the iRobot) are taking these standard tasks out of the hands of consumers. 

Automated products are intended to make consumers’ lives easier, so why are some people less keen to accept these advancements? 

Steve Hoeffler

A new study, Overcoming the Negative Role of Nostalgia in Consumer Reactions to Automated Products, co-authored by Steve Hoeffler, Professor of Marketing, explores the role of nostalgia in consumer resistance to automated products. 

“We conducted this study to understand better how nostalgia negatively impacts consumers’ reactions to automated products, and to clarify how firms can combat this negative association,” says Hoeffler. 

In a series of 6 experiments with almost 1,500 participants, the researchers first determined “that a high (versus low) degree of automation reduces consumers’ nostalgic feelings about past consumption episodes.” From there, studies examine how firms’ communication strategy can combat the negative role of nostalgia in consumer reactions to automated products. 

The research team finds that the marketing strategies for automated products should begin with an assessment of the level of nostalgia in their target audience and the alignment of the positioning/product design to consumers’ feelings of nostalgia. 

Specifically, marketers should avoid marketing messages centered on automated tasks when targeting a nostalgia-prone group. For example, when marketing a coffee maker that automatically adds cream, sugar and flavoring to a nostalgia-prone group, it would be beneficial to focus on the time and energy-saving qualities of the product, rather than highlighting the elimination of the traditional coffee-making process to someone that may be sentimental or nostalgic about making their morning coffee.

“For a nostalgia-prone person, the memory of a road trip with friends might be sentimental, and the idea of not making memories like that again can be reason enough to write off automated cars,” says Hoeffler. “However, messages that are focused on activities you can do with your friends while driving an automated car can leave a more positive impression.”  

The study provides a roadmap for marketers to overcome potentially negative associations triggered by nostalgia, and it also enhances our understanding of consumer responses to automated products. 

“Product innovation success is all dependent on how consumers accept new products,” says Hoeffler. “Understanding consumer behavior and how consumers respond to automated products is a crucial step to embrace new automation technologies.”

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