Alison Shields

Associate Professor of Marketing

For Alison Shields, the public’s divided response to the film revival of the classic 80s Transformers franchise brought about an intriguing new field of study.

Alison noticed that along with some excitement for the new franchise, many old-school fans were just as “cranky” about it, complaining about the new installments before they had even seen the movies. 

“If you’re nostalgic for something, you should be happy to see it coming back. But what I was seeing was that wasn’t actually the case. I decided to look at what companies can do to capture that nostalgia.”

With Optimus Prime and Megatron on her mind, Alison pursued a niche study examining how adults feel toward a brand based on their connection to it as a child. As opposed to the divided response to Transformers, she points to the Volkswagen Beetle as an example of a consumer product that successfully captured nostalgia by appealing to its original consumer—the baby boomer generation.

“When they reintroduced it, they went after the same market,” Alison says. “The VW "Bug" went from being an affordable car for everyman to a car worth $35,000. This time they were targeting the same people who loved it before, but [who could now afford a more expensive car] with their adult salaries.”

Alison believes this yearning for nostalgia may continue with newer generations.

“You need to have ritualized behavior, regular consumption, and ties to friends and family for this nostalgia to exist,” Alison says. “There still is that same desire for a connection that kids had 50 years ago.”