The Truth About Millennials


As a millennial, I sometimes feel like a zoo animal. An exotic, mildly dangerous, feared yet coveted zoo animal. (See AdWeek’s latest field notes.)

Of course, given my cohort’s $200 billion spending power, marketers’ interest makes sense. Nearly every brand needs to figure out how to relate to millennials if it plans to survive. I certainly don’t resent efforts to do so, nor do I resent being targeted by advertising. I do, however, find that reports on Gen Y are frequently problematic.

Here’s how they typically read: Millennials are technology-attached social exhibitionists who are more interested in supporting causes than ourselves. Though we’re not all bad (we like sincerity, philanthropy, and exploration) we’re essentially an army of Peter Pans, content to live with our parents, barely work and measure our achievements in likes and follows.

Although this description may be data-backed and largely true, I think it’s a caricaturization of who we really are. One that many brands use to inform marketing strategy. Despite good intentions, I think this is the reason behind the ridiculous, irrelevant, and occasionally offensive messages I’m served.

So, while I’m not opposed to brands tapping on the glass so to speak, I’d like to give my fellow marketers a peak into millennials’ natural habitats.

Here are 3 truths about millennials that marketers should keep in mind:

1. We’ve got responsibilities.

I love brands that assume I’m a responsible, motivated, problem-solving adult. Not all do. Take Colorado Consumer Health Initiative’s campaign, Got Insurance?, for example. Ads feature keg-standing bros and lines like: “Good thing my mom made sure I got insurance.”  Needless to say, this does not resonate with me.

On the other hand, I really like Prudential’s Bring Your Challenges campaign.  It acknowledges my interest in preparing for a bright financial future and creatively addresses the questions I ask. This approach makes me feel respected, understood and compelled to learn more about the brand.

2. We aren’t necessarily of one mind, but we like when marketers ask us to think.

Deliver messages across channels that we frequent, but don’t be afraid to appeal to your niche.  After all, millennials are open to genuine, no-frills messages from advertisers. This is especially applicable as we gear up for election season. In other words, don’t expect cute instagrams to win my vote. Take advantage of my love of straight talk– state your purpose, invite me to participate and keep the theater to a minimum.

3. We’re easier to please than you think.

In a recent article on how the golf industry is targeting Millennials, AdWeek quoted one creative executive who thinks digitizing courses (think talking golf clubs and light beams on the green) will attract young people. This idea begs the question, “Why are you trying so hard?” While I think it’s excellent that golf brands strive to remove barriers for people my age, I’d prefer a simple education on the value of golf to laser tag and gimmicks.

I’m not saying that all millennial-oriented marketing is bad, or that all Generation Y studies are unflattering and worthless. I simply want to tell my fellow marketers this: the millennial world looks and is different, but don’t panic. We’re regular people, too.

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