I’m a millennial and I don’t understand marketing’s millennial obsession

John DawsonIn this guest post, John Dawson believes brands should remove their myopia when it comes to millennials.

If you’re in media, advertising or communications, it can often seem as though there is no one alive over the age of 35. No one.

The only people that are still alive on Earth are 18–35 year olds… it’s their [our?] planet now… they are the millennials (that name has such an iRobot feel about it, as though they can only see through a snapchat lens and talk with bots while living in a VR world).

As some context, I recently spent two weeks in New York for the NewFronts where the biggest digital publishers in the world present their annual strategy to advertisers in the hope of luring their media spend. What became clear very quickly was the all-encompassing emphasis on millennials. It was a race to see how quickly and how often a company could mention the word and ‘own the demographic.’

The way that everyone talks about these ‘millennials’ is as though they are some sort of new species that have been bred to bring about the death of the economic system, not through revolution like previous generations but through ad avoidance.

I’m waiting for the headline: “We’ve found one. A millennial. Now on exhibit at the Natural History Museum.” Because it does feel as though the entire industry is focused on the hunt for this audience above all others, as though their value to advertisers and media companies trumps all others… I’m not convinced by this.

But it’s easy to see how we’ve come to this point. In the world of thumb-stopping headlines, everything is either absolutely incredible or entirely fucked (especially in trade press). You either get millennials or your brand has no future… I don’t think this hyperbole is beneficial for anyone.

I believe the millennial obsession is a distraction for many businesses. I also think that this obsession plays into the hands of the biggest digital media players. Instead of dealing with fundamental changes to their operating conditions that affect their entire audience, many media companies are busy chasing their youngest (and not necessarily most valuable) with the blinkers on.

But am I just losing my mind? Am I just a hysterical millennial? Well let’s look at the data.

First, references to millennials have had an enormous rise. Yes, that is to be expected as the word is coined, and the generation comes into its own, but the velocity of the rise suggests mass proliferation of the term across culture which disproportionately affects the communication industry’s perception of the demo.

John Dawsom millennials graph - source Google Ngram

And then, onto search. Again, huge growth in the last two years which isn’t surprising.

John Dawson - interest over time graph

But look where that interest is coming from… advertising, tech and political hubs of the US. Millennials is a fascination that fuels itself.

john dawson - regional interest graph - Source Google Trends — ‘Millennials’

Anyway, what is the reality in Australia? Again, let’s turn to the data. Very easy to see what the make up of the country is from 1971–2015. The country grew from 13.1 million to 23.8 million at an average rate of 1.37% per annum.

Source ABS

What gets interesting is looking at population growth with demo’s broken out as a percentage of the total population.

john dawson -australian population demo split

The biggest growth in demographic composition?

As you’d expect from a mature economy, there’s been an explosion in the ‘old’ (no offence).

john dawson 2 pie graphs - source ABS

I’m not trying to suggest that millennials do not matter — for some brands they are the most important audience for their business. But what I do believe is that the obsession that we have with this demo above all others is detrimental.

In a time of huge change in the communication’s landscape and immense media fragmentation, it’s easy to preference technology over the consumer. Change is new, shiny, attractive but can be distracting.

What we must do in the marketing profession is keep our focus on people. The people who buy our products and build our businesses. The people who we must connect with in the same way as we have always done — through emotion and story.

John Dawson is a strategist at Mindshare and will be appearing co-moderating How to Make A Career Out of Ideas at Vivid Ideas on Sunday May 29th. More details here.


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