Music, Memory, and Pikachu: The Role of Nostalgia in Tech Products

This post by Jillian Firnhaber originally appeared on the LookFar blog.

A little over a year ago we began work on a project called Echo.

Echo is the brainchild of Tim Kappel, a prominent New Orleans/Nashville entertainment attorney. Echo is a social app that allows you to create and share digital memories around music. It’s also in open beta right now, if you’d like to help test it.

The office loved the idea right off the bat. The two developers, who built the MVP, were both in bands themselves, and many of our meetings quickly devolved into discussions around our most romantic/embarrassing/angsty musical memories. However, it was Tim who saw Echo as more than a nifty place to get misty eyed about Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Tim was and is a visionary; he knew that people, especially millennials, were craving opportunities to tap into their nostalgia. While crafting the company’s primary persona, Tim drew an image of a woman on the precipice of adulthood. Echo’s beachhead consumer is going out less and spending her evenings looking for homes on Zillow. Her carefree youth is waning, and she is actively looking for ways to re-engage with a version of herself unencumbered by boring responsibilities.

Now, at the launch of Echo’s beta, I’m still impressed at how dead-on Tim was about our cultural landscape. Blink-182 now has a hit single. Jurassic Park and Star Wars have been among the biggest box office hits. Netflix’s Stranger Things has quickly become the #1 reviewed TV show ever. And Pokemon, something I once made fun of my little brother for loving, is now draining the batteries on phones across the world. Tim was right. We love progress, but we love it even more when it connects us to our past.

Today’s businesses must figure out ways to incorporate our love for our own histories. The question is how to do this authentically and enhance the experiences so they feel fresh again.

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go is a global phenomenon – albeit, a slowing one, to judge by recent churn numbers. It’s an app powered by our nostalgic love for Pikachu and the rest of the original 151 (note that Go currently features only Pokemon from the first generation of games, which came out in 1996). Seriously, in a survey of 1000 Go players, 45% specified that one of their reasons for playing was nostalgia. Given that a full half of the players surveyed also said that they were playing because their friends were, it’s easy to see the pull that memory has on Go users.

lookfar-instagram-pokefar_720.png…including a small but passionate group at the LookFar offices.

That nostalgic punch has powered Go far beyond the heights of an extremely similar product that lacked its immediate memory-trip potential. Niantic, the development studio behind Pokemon Go, has a similar product called Ingress which was released in 2012. Although it still has an active community, the augmented reality game never reached anywhere near the level of mass adoption of Pokemon Go. Using friendly, familiar characters was key to Go’s success.

Now that the masses are on board with augmented reality, there are limitless opportunities for game companies to iterate and riff off of Pokemon Go. In this case, using a theme the dominant digital generations were already comfortable with was a way to promote mass adoption of a completely new gaming concept.

Gary Vaynerchuk spoke about Pokemon Go’s launch and the concept of “nostalgic intellectual property.” That is, if you own content that users loved in the past, you have a huge leg up on people creating brand new content. If you’re creating a game, app, or content space, find ways to use your own, or others’ nostalgia intellectual property. Tapping into the past of your users is a surefire way to pique their interest and keep them engaged. Brands that had hits in the 90’s are perfectly poised right now to take advantage of millennials’ nostalgia-drive. I fully expect a mobile, Mario Kart reboot from Nintendo in the next 18 months. They’d be stupid not to!


I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. Is Slack not virtually AIM with more features and better UI?

I was the queen of the passive-aggressive away message in high school (mostly Manson lyrics and Ginsberg quotes), but by 2005, AIM was a joke, entirely populated by behind-the-times losers. I credit this to a couple of broader trends. First, the rise of smartphones and texting. Texting existed during the heyday of AIM, but with smartphones in every hand, it became the dominant communication method. Texts were already a real-time communication tool, and once they were accessible from your smartphone, they largely eliminated the need for computer-based messaging.

Second, Facebook’s rise coincided with AIM’s decline. Even though Facebook didn’t launch with real-time communication, it added a lot of context to the messaging experience, and made it much easier to find and communicate with people you didn’t necessarily know in real life.

So from around 2007 until Slack launched in 2013, there was no great, cool-kid-accepted way to communicate with people in real time from your desktop. Then Slack launched and everybody hailed it as a new, amazing tool for efficiency and team communication.

It’s not new! It’s AIM for businesses!

I even worked briefly for a business that used AIM for team communication in 2014 and found that it had a near identical feature set to Slack. Slack didn’t break new ground. It took a tool we were all accustomed to using, but had fallen out of love with, and gave it a much-needed facelift and customizability.


Echo is intended to be a musical social network powered by shared memories. It integrates with Spotify, so essentially any song on Spotify can be pulled in and tagged with people, places, and text. People always love to see old photos of themselves, and Echo is betting that people will have equally strong, if not stronger memories associated with specific tunes.

In fact, at a certain age music becomes almost exclusively a vestige of your past. New music discovery all but stops at age 33. Top hits focus on attracting young listeners whose taste is still maturing. Folks in their 30’s are left to listen to Led Zeppelin and Third Eye Blind on repeat. Echo believes aging music lovers will be receptive to new ways to engage with the music they already know and love.

In Tim’s words:

echo-screenshot.png“As we grow older, life becomes more complicated. Not bad, of course, just complicated by marriage, jobs, kids, money, etc. I think that’s why older millennials are primed for nostalgic consumption right now. They think back to their teens and twenties and recognize the relative simplicity of life at that age.

As for Echo, like most people, music was a huge part of those formative years for me. I wanted to create a space where I could share my musical memories with my friends; where I could relive my musical journey so far. In a way, it’s what a record or cd collection used to do, but something that we’ve lost in the era of Spotify. And psychologists and neuroscientists will tell you that music nostalgia is not just driven by cultural forces, but also that our brains are actually hardwired to experience feelings of nostalgia when presented with music from our past. From that standpoint, it’s a safe bet that consumers will continue to seek out music that reminds them of an earlier place or time and services like Echo, which help them to do so.”

Just like Timehop does for photos, Echo allows you to export memories to Facebook, where an image that includes details and album cover is posted to your wall. It makes it easy to relive a concert, a pep rally, or a zeitgeisty hit with anyone on your friends list. Or not. I definitely do not need my one-time high school beau to relive our awkward pizza date that ended with “With Or Without You” and clammy hand holding.

The Power of Nostalgia

Breaking new ground doesn’t mean you need to treat your audience like a blank slate. Memory and nostalgia can ease onboarding, increase a product’s social appeal, and drive acquisition of an otherwise unfamiliar product.

As we move in 2000-teens, we’re also seeing something new: an entire generation of digitally fluent consumers are reaching maturity. Millennials have come into their own as a potential market, and suddenly 90’s mania isn’t just a cute Facebook page – it’s something you can leverage for the sake of a brand. You don’t have to look far for marketing examples; Geico brought Salt-N-Pepa back for a TV spot, Coke is selling Surge again, and Mario (recognizable to younger demographics as well, but I couldn’t leave this one out) is shilling the 2020 Olympics.

Looking to the future is a hallmark of successful startups; but sometimes, it’s worth looking back a couple of decades as well.

Shameless partner plug: Echo is live on the App Store and Google Play. It’s a free app that allows you to share, remember, and listen to music; Tim and the rest of the team would love to see you join their growing community.