‘Maisel Day’ and the Power of Nostalgia

To support its Emmy-nominated program “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Amazon’s marketing department partnered with dozens of businesses in Los Angeles for ‘Maisel Day’ on August 15th. From a gas station charging 30 cents a gallon to burgers, fries, and a slice of pie for 80 cents at a diner, this clever marketing campaign uses some literal Hollywood magic to recreate a nostalgic image of the 1950s.

By the end of the day, Amazon got plenty of press, most notably for the aforementioned gas station requiring police intervention to manage the crowds that came to fill up at the pump. As they say in Hollywood, “any press is good press” — even though the gas station had to temporarily close down, it certainly sparked quite the reaction online, generating tons of publicity that may sway Academy members towards voting for Maisel.

Why did people continue to line up to the gas station, even after huge crowds meant waiting hours in line to fill up a few gallons? Why did people decide to buy $1 meals at a diner they probably weren’t planning on going to eat out at beforehand, or book a $40 stay at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel that they didn’t need for the night?

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Any basic Economics course can point out of the obvious: a huge increase in quantity demanded due to artificial price ceilings from this promotion likely contributed to the exuberant crowds. What’s even more interesting is to consider the Economics (or more precisely, the Behavioral Economics) of Nostalgia in play.

According to the Decision Lab, the “Nostalgia Effect” is an empirically recorded bias, where “reminiscing about the past leaves us wanting to spend more money now.” In a 2014 study, Lasaleta, Sedikides, and Vohs find that participants have a higher willingness-to-pay for a product advertised when shown a “nostalgic advertisement” versus a more neutral advertisement. Through six different trials, the researchers find that nostalgia weakens participants’ desire for money, possibly because nostalgic effects reorient our values towards social connectedness and away from money.

Maisel Day wasn’t a profit-based marketing tactic, at least not directly: the cheap prices co-subsidized by participating businesses and Amazon instead played a direct role in recreating a nostalgic picture of the 1950s. For all the time-relevant decor, feminine Maisel-esque touches, and sense of community generated by the network of businesses, the cheap prices themselves serve as a form of nostalgia, evoking a time of wonderfully good value compared to the prices we pay today.

Notably, the 2014 study did not show increased willingness to spend more time in response to nostalgic advertisement compared to neutral ones. Although nostalgia brought people to the businesses, the sunk-cost fallacy may explain why they were willing to wait in long lines at the gas station, movie theater, and diner. After you wait 30 minutes in line, it is a “sunk cost”; staying or leaving after that point won’t help you recoup it. Even though this implies people should disregard this as a factor for their future decision-making many people instead feel like it’s something they need to factor in to a decision to stay or leave. As a result, you have a mass of people arriving because of the nostalgia and staying out of “irrational” factoring in of sunk costs (which makes for great photos ops for all businesses involved).

Longer term, both Amazon and the businesses it partnered with may monetarily benefit. Winning a lot of Emmys can increase Maisel’s viewership, prompting a rise in Amazon Prime memberships to view the show. Local businesses gain lots of exposure from all the news outlets reporting on the Maisel Day event, and lingering nostalgia from the experience may convert more people into repeat customers at these places.

There’s a unique power to nostalgia — yearning for a rose-tinged past. It’s fascinating to see a well-coordinated marketing campaign centered around nostalgia play out across a city, especially when it allows us to glean some equally-fascinating behavioral insights.


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