Exposing the Millennial Myth – What’s the real deal?

Jun 13, 14 Exposing the Millennial Myth – What’s the real deal?

By Cassandra Bremer, Content Manager and Developer at The San Jose Group

Quarterbacks throw Hail Marys; hockey players pull their goalies; advertisers post viral videos.

Sure, viral videos have their place—views boost recognition, keep brands top-of-mind, increase SEO and occasionally bring viewers back to the brand’s website for those coveted conversions. However, when brands develop videos as last-ditch efforts to win over the young, social media-obsessed and self-absorbed Millennial consumer group (roughly speaking, those born in the ‘80s and early ‘90s), they’re wasting their resources.

According to The National Chamber Foundation’s “Millennial Generation Review,” this generation, 80 million strong, has a $200 billion direct purchasing power, $500 billion indirect spending power and will outspend the Baby Boomers by 2017. As such, marketers are on the Millennial treasure hunt, and every Millennial obstacle (i.e., increased mobile technology use, decreased attention span) has brands on the quest creating new advertising avenues. However, they largely misunderstand the true Millennial market, so the loot they’re trailing is little more than fool’s gold. Opportunities to win a greater portion of their spending power exist only once brands shed their stereotypes.

Although TIME characterizes Millennials as “Lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents,” the reality—in most cases—is quite the opposite. While Millennials are not carbon copies of their parents, they do share a plethora of similarities with the Baby Boomers and Generation X, including education and families. In a recent study, “Millennials as New Parents,” Barkley found that older Millennials (ages 25 to 34) actually are, contrary to popular beliefs, hard-working and family-focused: 63% are married with children, while 44% are “very financially stressed.” So with their families in mind, they’re not working to splurge entire paychecks on the latest and greatest trends. In other words, Millennials aren’t the types of consumers brands think they’re targeting. The narcissistic, social media obsessed, younger spenders concerned with keeping up with the Jones, Kardashians and everybody in between are a part of the mix, but according to Maureen Morrison, they only make up 7% of the Millennial population.

So where does that leave all the new marketing avenues advertisers have created to target Millennials?

Undoubtedly social media, viral video content and native advertisements are here to stay and will become increasingly important advertising avenues; however, conventional advertising tactics lie at the foundation. The goal is not to be seen, heard and “liked,” but to earn the consumer’s business. Millennials are both open to new brands and seeking to build meaningful relationship with brands—making now marketer’s “go time.” Countless brands, including Kmart, released humorous ads in the past year in attempts to build loyalty and/or preference. But who really gets the last laugh when brands get funny? In 2012, Ad Age released a study that found funny content actually generated less desire to purchase compared to unfunny ads. While Kmart’s official “Ship My Pants” spot has over 20 million views on YouTube, the Sears Holding Company’s 2013 third quarter revenues dropped 2.1%. Bottom line: producing viral content won’t keep companies from declaring bankruptcy.

Genuine and conventional ads can also go viral as well as win the market. Guinness, the Diago brewer, also achieved viral success in the third quarter with an emotional (vs. humorous) ad, “Wheelchair Basketball.” The spot on Guinness’s official account achieved over four million YouTube views (a great number, but far less than Kmart’s), and the company experienced a 4% increase in the third quarter. Consumer relationships, as it seems, are better built amongst genuine content vs. hilarious ads. After all, brands want their sales to go viral, not just their videos.

As Millennials approach their peak, marketers must realize exactly who these consumers are and engage them. With a large portion marrying, raising families and running households of their own, catering to the stereotypical financially dependent, media-saturated Millennials won’t get brands too far. Millennials are becoming more powerful consumers by the day, so it’s time for marketers to ditch the stereotypes and desperate viral attempts and start taking them seriously, making digital and social content a part of the strategy, not the entire strategy.

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