The Harvard Business Review recently published an article describing the unique approach marketers seeking millennial market share can utilize to engage the elusive Gen Y. My favorite takeaway from this fascinating report was, “[Marketing to millennials] is more like hosting a party than running a campaign” (Farris, 2015).
Millennials are a unique subset of consumers; AdWeek describes millennial consumers as “immune to traditional advertisements. Millennials don’t want to be “sold” to, they tune out all things commercial, and screen purchases through social communities (Newman, 2015). The emergence of the millennial consumer has changed all things advertising – the Mad Men days have gone by the way of landline phones, and established brands are scrambling to transition to meet the needs of tomorrow’s Gen Y consumer.
New Age Advertising
I’m always amazed at the repulsive responses received to “old school” advertising in my millennial focus groups. When presented with advertisement strategies of the past, millennial focus groups participants express utter distaste and swear off offending brand patronage.
It ain’t 1980.
Sex doesn’t sell.
Emotional manipulation doesn’t work.
Peer pressure – yeah, no longer a thing.
What Matters to Millennials?
Millennials demand authentic relationships, corporate transparency, and social responsibility. They patronize brands that reflect their strongly held principles and value system. As products of the Great Recession and longest war in American history, millennials are accustomed to doing without. “Things” mean very little to the Gen Y consumer (courtesy of student loans), and millennials demonstrate consistent loyalty to organizations demonstrating #giveback principles.
The Date Rape Ad
Presenting on advertising ethics to an audience of millennial business students, I included Bloomingdale’s controversial “Spike the eggnog” advertisement:
The millennial audience’s mouths dropped.
One particularly disturbed young professional asked, “Is this a joke?”
I informed the millennial audience of the ad’s debut date and source.
They were repulsed. So much so, that half a dozen millennials started snapping pics and tweeting their utter disgust to @Bloomingdales , swearing to never, ever patronize such an unethical brand.
“I cannot believe someone was paid to create a date rape ad,” one of the millennial marketers voiced.
As a millennial + marketing professional (who was equally disturbed by this unsettling advertisement), I was delighted to learn my generation shared my disgust at this advertisement.
The remainder of the presentation time evolved into an audience-initiated “#BloomingdalesAd #daterapeisnotok” social media protest campaign.
We’ve already established a few key principles:
This brings us to our last essential principle of creating a successful Gen Y promo “party – millennial consumers need to engage with their brands.
Millennial purchases aren’t dictated by impulse buys or “super savings” deals (I wasn’t the only millennial championing #BlackHoleFriday ).
Millennial consumers strive for minimalism, and exhibit extremely loyalty to brands they feel are deserving. They aren’t going to patronize a brand that’s not regarded as “part of their crowd”. Today’s marketing campaigns must engage millennials, reflect their principles, and cultivate relationship-based brand loyalty.
More Relationship, Less Sale
When consulting with established brands on how to increase millennial market appeal, I encourage clients to focus more on building a relationship than making a sale. The sales techniques of the past are big turnoffs to consumers of the present. Treat potential customers like a guest at your party – engage in two-way conversation, learn about their life, and cater to their needs. Such “courting period” will help establish brand-consumer relationship millennials require pre-patronage.
So next time you’re charged with creating a “buy this” advertising campaign, drop the sales speak and rephrase with a simple “Join Me” or “Let’s do this together”. Dropping the hard-nosed, used car salesman techniques may initially be terrifying, but by placing emphasis on consumer relations you’ll reap the benefits of a strong Gen Y market share.
Now, go transform your dead, old school advertisement campaign into a millennial-approved bash!
About Hannah Becker:
Hannah Becker is a millennial author, entrepreneur, and marketing consultant. She currently helps brands increase millennial market share through digital strategy and public relations. Follow Hannah on Twitter@MotivatedGenY