It always feels a little strange when a marketing professional gives a presentation about a market segment you happen to fall into. Distilling your entire being as an individual into a slideshow of a few key statistics and bite-sized behavioural trends not only creates an eerie inception moment, but it also makes you see how you are portrayed to the outside world. I’m categorised as a Millennial, also known as the Millennial Generation, or Generation Y, the genetic offspring of the Baby Boomers.
For a buzzword bandied around in countless boardrooms these days, perhaps even rivaling the old ‘main grocery buyer’, this conveniently labeled pack are as pervasive in modern culture as they are misunderstood. With many nearing their 30s, Millennials are approaching their peak spending years boasting an estimated purchasing power of $1 trillion globally (Merill Lynch, 2015). It’s no wonder there are over 40,000 published articles online that attempt to uncover the secret behind capturing this lucrative audience.
Yet attempts to understand who we really are rarely go beyond tired generalisations, barely scraping the surface of this complex and diverse group of individuals. If you’re born between 1980 and 2000 then you’re classified as a Millennial. You are one of two billion people in the world and make up 20% of Australia’s population (Merill Lynch, 2015). You’re two and half times more likely to be an early adopter of technology and three times more likely to talk about a brand on social media than any other generation (Millenial Marketing, 2016). Some say you’re lazy, spoilt, harbour an arrogant sense of entitlement and love yourself a little too much, having mastered the art of the selfie alongside every Kardashian and her kid. How are brands able to genuinely connect with Millennials when overly simplified statistics and misconceptions drive their thinking and approach?
According to VICE Australia’s Commercial Director Alex Light, “Millennials are the most marketing-savvy generation we’ve ever seen. They’ve grown up being surrounded by ads and they know when they’re being marketed to”. There is no point trying to ‘get down with the kids’ by flogging a product in a way unnatural to the brand or disguising the fact that you are trying to sell me a product because we will see right through it.
I was left feeling confused after watching Nescafe’s latest spot for its Dolce Gusto coffee machines. The ad attempts to connect the idea of reinventing coffee blends to remixing classic songs by leveraging a well-known celebrity’s own brand of cool. But all I could see was a bad music video clip featuring musician Will.i.am bopping to his over-the-top remix of Otis Redding’s ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’ whilst awkwardly holding a cup of coffee and delivering a contrived campaign line, “there’s nothing like being creative to reinvent a classic”. Do I think the ad is targeting my fellow Millennials? Yes. The choice of celebrity talent is very much to appeal to a younger, modern and fashionable audience. I probably wouldn’t have ever had Nescafe on my radar until this campaign.
And let’s not forget the blatant and unashamed product placements that interrupted weekly viewings of The Bachelor this year. Whether it was a packet of Wrigley’s gum right before a kiss, or a product demo of Dyson’s futuristic Supersonic hairdryer right before a dumping, the show might as well have been an infomercial. So painfully obvious were these placements, Menulog which featured in a number of episodes, had no choice but to make a joke out of it with weekly ‘in case you missed it’ posts on its Facebook page pointing out its frequent cameos.
On the flip side, brands that focus on cultivating long term connections with Millennials do so by digging a little deeper to understand the complexities of this audience. The real challenge and sweet spot lies in finding the right insight that only that particular brand can genuinely speak to. Airbnb’s humorous ‘Don’t Go There. Live There’ campaign captured our search for authentic experiences and human connection to demonstrate the brand’s core proposition. Apple’s infamous ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ campaign tapped into our constant thirst to create and share content with the world by shifting the spotlight onto everyday smartphone photographers and effectively positioning Apple as the enabler of our creative pursuits.
But this approach also extends to the brands which have to work that much harder to earn street cred. For categories like banking, insurance or supermarkets, identifying and communicating which of the brand’s core offerings will be of tangible value for Millennials becomes integral to establishing rapport. Realising the entrepreneurial ambitions of this group and the changing nature of how they work, US bank Capital One transformed its branches into co-working spaces offering free Wi-Fi, a café and practical workshops on topics like the psychology of spending and dealing with college debt. They even host community open mic nights to showcase local musicians and poets, completely repurposing physical branches as an increasing proportion of their customer base choose to bank online.
Back at home, Aldi’s campaigns embrace our collective disdain for tacky or overly emotional supermarket advertising by poking fun at us and itself without taking the focus away from its product offerings and competitive price points. Never have I ever been more entertained by a supermarket TV ad than Aldi’s ‘Special Buys’ campaign, which dramatises the feeling of being incomplete as a person without that 500-thread count Egyptian cotton sheet set for $59.99 or that premium motorised treadmill for $499. Consumerism at its finest.
As I found myself being transported back into the presentation room while a slide titled ‘digital natives’ flashed past, I couldn’t help but wonder how long until we Millennials takeover the very same boardrooms from which we were conceived, only to be presented with the same challenge of trying to understand the next generation and subsequently misunderstanding them in the process. Only time will tell, but for now perhaps marketers could follow these simple steps:
1. Find an insight that I will resonate with by looking beyond just statistics and generalisations. Don’t underestimate the power of focus groups and vox-pops in uncovering the truths numbers alone, will never show.
2. Clearly express what value I get from your brand otherwise I will lose interest and look elsewhere. There’s no room for over-indulgent brand stories unless you can tell me what you can do for me.
3. Stay true to your brand’s tone of voice. Whether you are a bank or a streetwear brand, I will respect you more if you don’t pretend to be something you are not.
Author: Alison Tanudisastro, Senior Account Manager, Ikon Sydney