Word of the Week: Millennials (by a Millennial)

11 October 2018


The holy grail of Marketing, PR and Advertising (still) seems to be the (always) elusive millennial generation – those born between 1980 and 2000 and with little else in common than their birthdays. This last fact has not stopped brands from trying to define them and reach them en bloc. And HOW they have tried. And failed.

A common failure stems from attempting to reach millennials in their “own language”. For example, Microsoft recently sent exclusive party invitations to new interns with the opening line “hey bae” and the call to action “hell yes to getting lit” with “hella noms” and “lots of dranks”. Binary may be universal but millennials are certainly not, meaning this fumbling faux-pas went right over their heads.

And what about Procter & Gamble attempting to patent “WTF”, “LOL” and “NBD” for their upcoming soap and air freshener products in a wistful bid to catch the eye of their colloquial counter parts – I mean, WTF?

Also named Generation Y, millennials have actually been classified as the most vaguely defined group which is exactly why it is so difficult for brands to make focused and insightful claims that inform meaningful two-way conversations.

However, according to The Economist, there are three general rules companies can loosely apply in order to get their foot through the millennial door; (1) Transparency, (2) Experiences over things and (3) Flexibility.

Transparency: Patagonia, the outdoor sports brand, introduced the “Footprint Chronicles” to better communicate their sustainability efforts to customers. They created videos and interviews of their supply chain so that customers could ascertain the real origins of garments as well as gauge what is good and bad about a particular product – in other words, total transparency. As a recent Fast Company study revealed that 90% of Millennials would purchase a brand’s products if they are strongly aligned to a “social purpose”, it is therefore not surprising that Patagonia is one of the most loved brands for Gen Y.

Experience over things: It’s no secret (in marketing at least) that younger generations are dispensing with ‘things’ over ‘experiences’. So for brands to get in the minds of millennials, they need to integrate themselves seamlessly into their environment. American Insurance group State Farm provided Bonnaroo Music Festival Goers with festival essentials such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and shampoo which millennials then shared online with the hashtag #HereToHelp. The campaign subsequently went viral and an otherwise non-millennial brand was successfully planted on their radar. A simple value-add that led to a generational perception shift.

Flexibility: And why do millennials crave experiences like festivals over material goods? Because they are the generation with the most debt, least assets and lowest job security, making them as commitment-phobic as Casanova. Consequently, brands that offer millennials flexibility in the form of temporary access as opposed to the permanent ownership of “things”, are gaining traction.

Borrow My Doggy, an online pet-sharing platform, enables animal-lovers to get their doggy fix by borrowing Rover, Rex or Rolo for any amount of time. Renting pets for as little as one hour gives millennials the desired access without the cumbersome disadvantages that come with outright ownership such as expensive vet appointments, purchasing pet food, finding kennels when going on holiday and dreaded early morning walks. Maybe a dog can just be for Christmas…

For a generation that prides itself on diversity and deliberately not fitting the mould, it is clear that a one-size-fits-all solution is not only misdirected, but impossible. However, by implementing these three tenets, brands may actually find that they have the inspiration to go beyond the cookie cutter and communicate with millennials successfully and for the long-term.

Gabie Speed, Millennial, W Communications