“F**k Off, Grandad!”
At ZAK, this is heard a little too often.
You’ll usually hear this whilst we’re talking about brand communications that are trying just a bit too hard to be ‘down with the kids’. Maybe something released in the day’s trade press or an ad one of the team has seen on the way to work and shared on slack. Debate and dissection will begin over a coffee whilst the bleary eyed and the bright eyed warm up for a day’s work.
Often, in our humble opinion, there’s nothing wrong with the initial idea but when activated it becomes clear that it’s based more on an assumption of what the team behind it think they know, rather than what is actually known about the target audience.
Step outside of the ZAK offices and there are ‘Grandad’ examples everywhere. The latest and perhaps greatest, Pepsi and Kendall Jenner, case and point.
But marketing teams can’t be held wholly responsible for getting it wrong; the problem is much deeper and it starts with the actual word – ‘Millennial’.
For agencies, brands, the media, your boss, even your mum, the word Millennial has evolved to become catnip for the over 30s. And for those that it does describe, they can’t relate. In fact, over two thirds of people under 30 don’t think the word represents them at all and one third don’t even know what it describes*.
Stick the M-word in an article or presentation and everyone and anyone who had an Athena poster on their bedroom wall will lean in a bit more; desperate to hear more about this powerful, impenetrable society of the under 30s and the current list of social behaviours to look out for.
In the marketing industry, references to Millennials usually follow two themes:
The derogatory Millennial commentator: These are usually longer form articles that criticise them as the ‘snowflake’ generation, in a finger wagging Northern Dad ‘you-don’t-know-you’re-born’ type of offering.
The celebrator of all things youth: proclaiming them as inspirational, entrepreneurial, following their own YOLO way of life and most importantly, holding the keys to the castle of brand stardom.
Everyone is so caught up trying to work out what a Millennial is, that no one’s actually questioned one.
We went to one of the foremost Youth Marketing summits in the UK and attended seminar after seminar with fur coat and no knickers presentations by non-Millennials, to non-Millennials telling them how to engage Millennial audiences, what they need, what they want, how they think and behave. When we spoke to the subject matter of these seminars at the same conference, the account managers, the creatives, the vloggers, bloggers and influencers, they were universally staggered at the amount of bullshit bingo being played. They could not understand why no-one had actually spoken to them. None were up on stage. There was no ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’, the horses were kept away, out of sight. Presumably for fear of displaying that enduring trait of youth, speaking up.
Brands and advertising will always be playing catch up to youth culture, that’s just a fact. But if we create a dialogue and talk with the audience and not at them, perhaps our industry can reduce the amount of failed to launch campaigns in the future.
We think it’s time to announce the Death of the Millennial and realise that today’s under 30s can’t be observed and generalised in the same way as generations before.
They’re too different, they’re too many things; the M-word just doesn’t do any one of them justice.
So, somebody call it.
Want to understand the hard to engage under 30s? Sign up for our event ‘Death of the Millennial’ on the 3rd July 2017 at Boondocks, Old Street.
Matt Bennett is CCO and Co-Founder of ZAK
* ZAK agency commissioned One Poll to run a quantitative study of 2,000 men and women across the UK aged 18-30