Nostalgia and the Tamagotchi

Japanese toy company Bandai has recently released the original Tamagotchi in North America. The Tamagotchi, a tiny virtual pet, is a popular nostalgic memento of the ‘90s, along with Pokémon cards and butterfly hair clips. Introduced globally in May 1997, the Tamagotchi quickly became a long-lasting international sensation, with over 82 million units sold as of 2017. At its peak popularity, fifteen Tamagotchis were sold every second in North America.

The appeal of the Tamagotchi lies in its simple gameplay. A digital pet is housed within the black-and-white LCD screen of an egg-shaped shell, and by pressing three rubber buttons, the user is able to feed it, clean it, and play minigames. The 1997 pet originally hatches from an egg and undergoes a full life cycle, transforming into a child, teen, and adult before dying off. In subsequent models, the Tamagotchi becomes more complex: the pet can fall in love with other characters and produce offspring, become a music star, or interact with other players’ toys through infrared communication. Though the Tamagotchi line was eventually discontinued in North America by 2014, Bandai continues to release larger full-color versions of the Tamagotchi that are well-received in Japan. Since its release, the Tamagotchi has developed a popular online cult following. The digital forum TamaTalk, as well as active communities on Facebook, Tumblr, and Reddit, enable users to purchase rare Tamagotchi models, swap gameplay tips, and indulge in their childhood nostalgia.

Nostalgia - a desire to return to simpler, better times - thus played a key role in Bandai’s decision to rehash and re-release the original Tamagotchi to international markets, and highlights a larger market trend of catering to the past. The mobile app Pokémon Go, launched in 2016, intermingles the childhood nostalgia of collecting Pokemón cards with cutting-edge smartphone technology to consolidate its popular appeal. According to the New York Times, it was the “millenials’ first mass-consumption nostalgia product” and was the most searched Google term in that year. Similarly, Facebook harkens back to the “good old days” through its ‘On this Day’ or ‘Year in Review’ features, which serve to remind users of memories of the past. Nowadays, companies cut costs and re-introduce old products through taglines such as “Original” and “Classic,” in the hopes that they could rejuvenate interest from older audiences. Even United States President Donald Trump, in his 2016 campaign, vowed to restore the nation to what it once was with his slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

By leveraging nostalgic appeal as a marketing factor, companies aim to foster connections among generations and generate shareable content that can drive sales in an increasingly competitive global market. Through the release of the 1997 Tamagotchi, Bandai aims to attract the millennial crowd via a 90’s kids’ toy, but with a novel twist. The company has “decided to bring back the original Tamagotchi with some new additions that will keep the classic look and feel of the original game, but with new colours that will bring the device to life like never before.”