Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are creating new economic opportunities in old, familiar spaces. To capitalize on the current popularity of NFTs, some retailers are turning to the timeless art of nostalgia: reworking old media or products into an NFT collection to advertise a brand in an online space or bring new attention (and customers) to a vintage product.

An NFT has a unique digital footprint that is transparently recorded and stored on a blockchain. Once recorded, an NFT is unchangeable and accordingly can represent ownership of a unique item. Alongside the metaverse and other Web3 resources, NFTs are rapidly penetrating many aspects of the global economy.

For retailers, NFTs offer a new way to package and sell retro media. Due to their unique, non-replicable and transparent nature, NFTs naturally provide scarce, easily-verified collectibles. And recent consumer trends show a strong interest in media from the 1980s through the early 2000s.

For example, Nickelodeon released an NFT collection featuring familiar faces from the now decades-old cartoons Hey Arnold! and Rugrats.[1] The collection features the animated characters’ faces wearing different costumes and expressions referencing familiar episodes.[2] Nickelodeon’s NFTs cater especially to consumers in their late twenties and early thirties who were children of the 1990s and early 2000s. Now adults and generally tech-savvy, these consumers could be the ideal target audience for a variety of nostalgic NFT collections.

Other NFT trends building off nostalgia indicate a potentially new way for retailers to re-work older media into the Web3 space. Relics from the analog age-of-technology have seen a remarkable resurgence, even among Gen Z who were not around for such technology. Vinyl records have rebounded from their abysmal sales in the early 2000s to selling over 40 million LPs in 2021.[3] Perhaps even more surprisingly, cassette tapes have doubled their sales in past few years.[4] In digital media, Disney has seen huge returns on their modern remakes of animated classics like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.[5] Even outside the world of re-made and re-packaged media, newmovies and TV shows are taking cues from the 1980s: Stranger Things, Dark, Chernobyl, The Goldbergs, The Americans, Cobra Kai and GLOW are among the most popular.

NFTs focused on vintage products may come with established customer bases and not need an investment in conception and development, usually required to bring products to market. Thus, retro-NFTs could create revenue streams without consuming resources that can instead be focused toward creating and marketing new products. Retailers might consider riding this wave of nostalgia by offering NFTs directed to sports memorabilia, art and clothing, and in some instances already are.[6] 

From an intellectual property (IP) perspective, making retro-NFTs puts other retailers and the public on notice and can prevent misuse of the retailer’s brand, vintage products and IP rights. As NFT creators continue to push the envelope of creativity, it’s important for retailers to monitor the marketplace, do what they can to prevent misappropriation and catch alleged infringement early, and be aware of potential licensing opportunities.[7] Vintage media and products are at a greater risk of inadvertent misappropriation as many creators will not remember the media or care to avoid misuse. Publishing older media and promoting older products in new ways can help mitigate these risks and establish brand credibility in the NFT market.

Retailers should carefully monitor developments in NFT markets and consider whether their products or services are amenable to sell as NFTs. This is particularly true for retailers with a significant current or past public presence. In addition to the economic opportunity, retailers should also be aware of the IP benefits accompanying NFT issuance.


[1] https://opensea.io/collection/nickelodeon-rugrats-heyarnold-eth.

[2] For example, see Arnold from Hey Arnold! wearing a banana suit, a reference to the series premiere: https://opensea.io/assets/ethereum/0x223e16c52436cab2ca9fe37087c79986a288fffa/5.

[3] Ritcher, Felix. “The Vinyl Comeback Continues,” Statista, https://www.statista.com/chart/7699/lp-sales-in-the-united-states/, Jan. 12, 2022.

[4] Morris, Chris. “Gen Z Nostalgia Strikes Again, As Cassette Tape Sales Show Signs of Becoming the New Vinyl,” Fortune, https://fortune.com/2022/07/21/cassette-tape-sales-doubled-gen-z-nostalgia-trends-vinyl/, July 21, 2022.

[5] Whitten, Sarah. “Disney’s Remakes Have Made More Than $7 Billion Globally Since 2010,” CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/26/disneys-remakes-have-made-more-than-7-billion-globally-since-2010.html, July 27, 2019.

[6] Williams, Alex. “Nike Sold An NFT Sneaker For $134,000,” NYT, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/26/style/nike-nft-sneaker.html, May 26, 2022.

[7] Brittain, Blake. “Hermes Lawsuit Over ‘MetaBirkins’ NFTs Can Move Ahead, Judge Rules,” Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/legal/litigation/hermes-lawsuit-over-metabirkins-nfts-can-move-ahead-judge-rules-2022-05-05/, May 6, 2022.