If you asked me about ‘The Wonder Years’ or ‘Happy Days’ I would only vaguely remember. If you asked me about Spice World or Disney’s Pocahontas, I could most likely (ok, most definitely) recite the lyrics to every song. I check all five of my email addresses several times daily, am most likely to respond via text message—but still remember the floppy disk.
All of these things, along with my birth year 1991, pinpoint me as being what feels like the buzzword of the century: a millennial.
The issue is, while big brands continue to become increasingly excited and exploratory of the ‘millennial’ generation, us millennials are becoming more and more fatigued by it. If there were ‘unsubscribe’ buttons attached to generations as there are attached to spam mail—my guess is many of us millennials would unsubscribe. We don’t want to be grouped as ‘millennials’ because millennials crave individuality and we don’t want to carry the burdensome label of ‘entitled generation’ with all of its negative assumptions. While we want to be heard, we don’t want to be labeled.
When big brands make efforts to seek out and appeal to millennials, we do notice. If I could hand over a few nuggets of millennial insight to big brands out there…I would tell them that the reason why shifting marketing efforts toward a ‘millennial’ appeal is not always useful is likely a combination of a few different factors:
1 // Inauthenticity is tabooed more than authenticity is applauded.
One recurrent finding in millennial values is that authenticity is key—and we don’t like being ‘sold’ to. The conundrum is that even more than we value authenticity, we detest inauthenticity. However, squeezing a brand into the mold of an ‘authentic’ millennial mindset feels rather…inauthentic. Millennials don’t want to feel like brands are using insincere methods of targeting on the basis that we value sincerity—especially if the result is far out of line with the brand. We don’t want brands to necessarily ‘be’ us; we want brands to be themselves.
2 // When we see through the marketing, we want to see the real brand behind it.
Not only do millennials notice when they’re being targeted, they can also see right through it. This is likely why Pizza Hut’s newest rebrand failed, because millennials have x-ray vision of sorts seeing through the ‘gourmet crusts’ that artisanal Italian cuisine is not in line with the ‘true’ Pizza Hut. Similar logic could also explain why the same ‘artisanal’ spin works so well for other brands, like Starbucks—where ‘artisanal’ products feel more in line with the overall branding of an elevated beverage experience. Even though we can see the ‘freshly brewed’ pumpkin latte pouring out of plastic cartons and the ‘artisan baked’ pastries being ripped out of the packaging, we let it slide…because the kind of authenticity millennials value is not in the attempt to provide ‘authentic’ products, but is in the braveness and passion of being whatever brand you really are.
3 // Passion speaks louder than product.
In the eyes of millennials, authenticity falls flat without passion. Millennials want to see reflected in brands the passion and potential they see in themselves. Whether or not the (negative) assumptions about the millennial persona are true, I think the most prominent common denominator of generation Y is ambition—even if not drive. We want to be the next ‘big idea’ or the first even bigger idea—and we would like to see the same genuine kinetic and potential energies reflected in our brands.
With all that being said, if your aim is to market transfatty fast food to millennials—then you should shamelessly and passionately sell the best transfatty fast food there is, because for millennials a genuine passion behind a product is more attractive than the product itself. So, if handing out employment (the real key to a millennial’s heart!) with every purchase is out of the millennial marketing budget, I would say figuring out your brand’s purpose and passion and then simply and genuinely just ‘being’ the hell out of it is the next best thing…because passion cannot be ‘authenticated’—it already is.