The Psychological Power of Nostalgia in Burger King’s Throwback Logo

Michael Beausoleil

Burger King recently revealed their new logo, but it might look really familiar. That’s because it is. It’s basically the same logo they used in the 90's.

Like many brands, Burger King is leveraging the power of nostalgia. It’s a psychological phenomenon that can be used to evoke positive feelings. This makes it a marketing tool, and it’s particularly associated with millennials. As this generation ages into their late twenties and thirties, their dollar is becoming important in the consumer market.

There was a time when nostalgia was considered a serious mental disorder: a form of depression akin to homesickness. Symptoms were typically identified in servants or soliders who longed for the days for freedom. Some became suicidal or manic, but they were also in very restrictive environments. In hindsight, we’re able to see their symptoms were justified and we know 17th century psychology isn’t scientifically sound.

No one is feeling 17th centuary nostalgia for Burger King; at least I hope not. The definition of the word as changed to a much lighthearted longing for the past. Feelings of nostalgia can actually be good for you, and like any good thing, marketers want to use that to their advantage.

There’s a reason Burger King chose to use an older logo rather than an entirely new one. Customers are now nostalgic for the brand, and this has psychological impacts on their views of Burger King. There’s no single way to experience feelings of nostalgia, but there are many impacts on customers’ perspectives.

It Makes You Trust the Brand More

When you go to Burger King, you don’t know the person making your Whopper. You don’t know who will be handing your food out the drive thru window, but you do know Burger King. You’ve been going there your whole life, and you know what they’re going to give you.

(photo via Burger King on Twitter)

A sense of nostalgia has been linked to a sense of generosity and trustworthiness. When customers have these feelings, they’re more likely to make a purchase as Burger King. They link their future experiences to past experiences, and this makes them willing to get a Whopper for the hundredth time.

You Remember the Good, Not the Bad

People who are nostalgic tend to remember the good times. Perhaps this means recalling a family trip to Burger King or the time they received a Toy Story toy with their meal. They’re unlikely to remember the time their burger was burnt or their fried were cold.

These feels might be slightly fantasized, but it’s common experience for the nostalgic. It doesn’t take much to let the mind wander to past events. Sometimes a logo can the starting point on a trip down memory lane. This trip is constructed of positive memories that translate into today’s actions.

It Strengthens Customer Loyalty

Some brands have been serving customers for decades. Using throwback logos and images reminds people just how long they have been a part of their lives. This makes the brand seem more authentic. When they’ve been in the same industry for a long period of time, customers know they’re committed to their craft. In Burger King’s case, they were serving Whoppers in 1995, 2021, and will continue into the future.

(photo via Burger King on Twitter)

This sense of dependability sets proper expectations for customers. They’ve been able to have a fairly uniform experience for generations. In the future, when they crave a hamburger, Burger King will come to mind. The experience might not be surprising, but it’s predictable in the best sense of the word.

Sad People View You More Favorably

Marketing can be manipulative, and nostalgia can be powerful. When people start feeling down in the dumps, their minds will wonder to more positive times in the past. For longstanding brands, they can be a part of past memories. Burger King was likely there in the 80’s and 90’s. Even if people aren’t longing for BK, it‘s always been available to them.

We also know people make unfavorable decisions when they’re unhappy. They might eat unhealthy foods or spend more money than anticipated. While the consumer might not be proud of their decision to eat a Burger King when they’re upset, they’re still welcome customers at the restaurants.

Brands Seem Irreplaceable

By definition, nostalgia has a sentimental element to it. This means it's impossible to create a similar product with the same emotional connection. There’s personal meaning to be found, and that’s not easy to measure or replicate.

(photo of Burger King in 1982 vis Business Insider)

If you spent your teenage years at Burger King, before there was a Five Guys in town, BK is part of your adolescent. Objectively, people may rank Five Guys as the better hamburger restaurant. Despite this, BK was part of your history. They were there for you after your high school classes, and Five Guys will never be a part of those memories. Old logos remind you that BK’s history overlaps with your history.

It Makes You Spend More

People spend more money to feel better. When nostalgia is involved, interest in a product is deeper than surface level. This feeling deepens brand connection, and reflects those positives feelings onto the brand.

The relationship between consumer and brand is strengthened. In turn, the relationship between consumer and their money is weakened. Cost becomes less of a factor, and customers spend more. At Burger King, they’ll gladly let you buy another Whopper so you feel like it’s 1999 again.

It Just Makes People Feel Good

When people think about the psychology of marketing, it’s often associated with malicious intents. In terms of nostalgia, it can instill a sense of happiness that’s mutually beneficial. It makes customers view the brand more positively, and it highlights the best aspects of the brand without them needing to overtly show you.

(photo of happy King via AdWeek)

Nostalgia can be calming, optimistic, and counteract negativity. This is a far cry from it’s 17th century definition. Experts now view it as a positive emotion that encourages healthy decision making. While no one would consider Burger King heathy, the occasional visit isn’t going to hurt you, especially if it can help lift your mood.

The Psychological Genius of Burger King?

Before giving Burger King too much credit, it’s important to note they’re not the only ones on the nostalgia bandwagon. You could even argue they’re late to the trend, and even later to other design trends. It’s surprising they were using a skeuomorphic design in their logo until 2020. For nearly a decade brands have been using flat designs, a trend that many attribute to iOS 7 released in 2013.

When they did change the logo, they went retro. This harnessed the power of nostalgia. Time will tell if this was a smart move, but there is a lot of studies to support the idea that nostalgia can be beneficial for a brand.

It can be difficult to discuss the impacts of nostalgia as it isn’t tangible nor can it be easily measured. We look to specific actions to see its impact, namely spending money in the marketing world. Beyond these observable actions, nostalgia is deeply personal.

Burger King isn’t being psychologically manipulative by doing this. After all, they have truly been a part of the fast food market for decades. Sales have been flat for the brand, and they’re likely trying to increase recognizability. This is just one way to get some attention. Simple as it may be, nostalgia is powerful enough to get some real results.

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Writer, educator, and a few other things.

San Diego, CA

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