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Millennials, Advertising and Avoiding Generalizations

Millennials: advertising’s current white whale. Defined (sometimes) as those age 18 to 34, Millennials recently overtook Baby Boomers as the largest living generation, so properly connecting with them as marketers is imperative.
But the sad fact is, when advertisers try to understand—and effectively market to—such a large group, they run toward broad, sweeping generalizations. While based in reality, these generalizations tend to be skewed by the observer, taken in the wrong context—or even a little mean. In her Generation Me, Jean Twenge goes so far as to say Millennials have an increased sense of entitlement and narcissistic tendencies. And while some of this observation is true, it is no less true for Millennials as it was for Gen X or the Baby Boomers. The difference is these past generations have since outgrown their stereotypes. Newsweek ran an article on “The Video Generation” about how young people are obsessed with making videos of themselves—in 1985. Sound familiar?

newsweek cover The Video GenerationSome of the biggest marketing flops can come from trying too hard or by assuming that because some things are popular with some in a certain generation, it is the only effective way to get the message across. A few notable examples: Juicy Fruit’s emoji-only Tweets, Kia’s “Make a meme” ad campaign and GameStop’s slang tagline “GameStop be like…” Advertisers, raise your hand if you’ve been in a meeting during which any of the following were said:

  • “Millennials love taking selfies! How can we bank on this?”
  • “People today have short attention spans! Make sure our ad is no longer than 5 seconds, or they’ll lose interest!”
  • “Make the ad a meme—Millennials love memes!”

As a Millennial who happens to work in marketing, here’s my advice: When advertising to Millennials, remember they are not all that different from the generations before them—just younger. We may have our inside gags, common generational touch points and things only we enjoy—which you should use to reach us. But push those buttons too hard or too often, and the message comes across as desperate and disconnected… or laughable. Remem

As a Millennial who happens to work in marketing, here’s my advice: When advertising to Millennials, remember they are not all that different from the generations before them—just younger. We may have our inside gags, common generational touch points and things only we enjoy—which you should use to reach us. But push those buttons too hard or too often, and the message comes across as desperate and disconnected… or laughable. Remember those ’90s ads where everything was “Radical!” or “Extreme!” That’s not appealing to any target market—Millennial or otherwise.

Pinball machine ad with skateboarder

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