Posted by: helenabeliveau | December 1, 2018

Nostalgia Marketing in Commodity Culture


In conjunction with the rise of accessibility in creating the perfect image, most exemplified through the high quality of an iPhone camera, there has also been a resurgence in the popularity of the disposable camera.  The rise of popularity in products reminding people of their own youth has even transformed into a marketing strategy. This marketing strategy, more specifically, is targeted towards millennials, and is fittingly branded as ‘nostalgia marketing’.  It seems as if the nostalgia of growing up in the 90’s has permeated to almost all facets of consumer culture, as millennials have wholeheartedly embraced the ‘90’s aesthetic’ that has permeated in clothing, music, and the consumption of pop culture.  

This resurgence has also translated to the way in which we take photos.  Rather than with the click of an iPhone, many people are embracing the wind up shutter of a disposable camera as their preferred method to capture moments in time.  An article written in 2017 has cited that FujiFilm sales of disposable cameras have nearly doubled since 2014-15 (Hannah). In a society bogged down by the filtered perfection of social media, the disposable camera allows people to truly capture a memory, uninterrupted by the sitter’s pleas for a picture retake.  In a society that seems to have become so transient, more specifically in the realm of visual culture, this resurgence has allowed people to capture the ‘real’ of real life, in contrast to the edited and filtered version of one’s life, most often seen on social media.

However, this yearning to capture a spontaneous moment seems to have been slightly corrupted by the use of disposable cameras as aesthetic inspiration for various camera filters and apps.  This can be most represented through the development, and subsequent popularity of the ‘Huji’ camera app. The ‘Huji’ camera app, in turn, transforms pictures taken by phone cameras into what appears to be the product of a disposable camera.  The final product is then equipped with blurred edges, uneven lighting, and a time stamp. The commodifying of this product to fit the efficiency of contemporary modes of photo taking poses a conundrum. Are people simply interested in the aestheticized and filtered version of nostalgia or the feeling of nostalgia itself?  In a time where a majority of gadgets are measurable through their convenience, the resurgence of the disposable camera still requires one to wait several days for photos to develop. These camera apps conversely, do not require the time and labor associated with the type of image they produce. So then, can the malleability of these products to fit the efficiency of current times have the same emotional effect as the products they take inspiration from?

Works Cited

Friedman, Lauren. “Why Nostalgia Marketing Works So Well With Millennials, And How Your Brand Can Benefit.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3 Aug. 2016,

Hannah, Jaye. “Disposable Camera Sales Are up – Instagram Backlash, or Passing Trend?” Six-Two by Contiki, 29 June 2018,


  1. Your points about nostalgia really hit home about the emotional connections it fosters. Nostalgia was actually first coined in a 1688 medical treatise by a Swiss physician who used nostalgia to describe the symptoms of homesickness. It was considered a “disease” and attributed to soldiers serving abroad or servants far from their homes who demonstrated these symptoms. Throughout the 17th and 18th century, many physicians circumscribed nostalgia within a medicinal framework. The terminology eventually made its way into literary and psychological spheres as nostalgic subjects attempted to root the self in a sense of place or past belonging.

    Yet, nostalgia can also be tied to larger forces, like the commercialism you have identified. Nostalgia also operates as a tempting political tool. For example, Trump’s entire campaign was built on the “Make America Great Again” slogan which created a sense of nostalgia for middle class white America. Some refer to this as “unchecked nostalgia,” which also manifested in the Brexit movement, surrounding ideologies of lost traditions, a romanticized past, and a tremendous sense of nationalist anxiety.

    I’ve also read about nostalgia as a defense mechanism. Instead of experiencing sadness, nostalgia has evolved as a resource of its own to evoke strong, positive emotions and connections instead of negative ones. It’s a way to integrate the past with the present in the face of an uncertain future, which we can see from your examples of iphone technology. That’s why I really like photos that distort the linear relationship between past and present. I’ve seen some really cool photographs by indigenous photographers who depict memories of the earth and people as elements of cyclical time and nostalgia in that regard is a recurring reality, instead of a singular memory, across land features and traditions. I don’t remember the names of the artists but I will try to do some searching!


  2. I think part of what makes nostalgia such a potent emotion and why we tend to return to outdated methods, like using disposable cameras, is that the process required in returning to older methods allows us to feel fulfilled. As you said, new technologies are more efficient, but because of that we don’t invest the same time and energy into the outcome we create. This kind of ties in with Walter Benjamin’s theory of aura, that photographs don’t possess the same magnetism and gravity that painted portraits do because they’re reproducible. Painting a picture takes arguably a lot more time and effort than taking a photo, and thus one’s emotional investment in the resulting product is not reproducible, whereas the process of snapping a photograph is. I definitely think you’re right about the commodifying of nostalgia, and I’d be interested in exploring this further.

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