For all the pandering businesses do to millennials, it’s become apparent that marketers and business owners across generations have no idea who exactly millennials are.
Popular YouTube personality and stand-up comedian Adam Conover goes so far as to posit that millennials — and perhaps other generations — don’t exist. At least, not the way we understand them.
In this talk at Deep Shift, Conover explains why the popular perception of millennials as portrayed by marketers and popular media is a lie. It’s a bit long, but it’s worth it.
One YouTube commenter (likely a millennial) said it best: “Perhaps our generation could grow up to be more sensitive and considerate to the future generations we will inevitably despise.”
If the video hasn’t convinced you, here are more reasons
Marketers should stop “marketing to millennials”.
1.) We can’t even agree who millennials are
Different sources give different years to the start of the millennial generation. A 2014 report from Synchrony Financial describes millennials as starting as early as 1976. A 2009 report by Metlife defined the generation as being born between 1977 and 1994. Most other sources give the start at 1980, but widely differ as to when it ends, ranging from 1993 to the year 2001.
This means the oldest millennial could be 40 by some estimates, or at least 36. These really are not the people who come to mind when we think of millennials. Supposing the generation ends after the year 2000, this would mean the youngest millennials would be 15 or 16. It doesn’t take much to figure out 16 and 40 year-olds these days don’t really have too much in common as far as generational experiences go.
2.) Most marketing targeted specifically to millennials is lazy
The idea of millennials being lazy, self-obsessed and caring for nothing but shallow entertainment has been a critique of younger generations that has been around in some form or another since at least ancient Greece. The idea that millennials are all about social media, memes, and materialistic is just flat-out wrong. True, there are millennials that may have those qualities, but so do plenty of other people from older generations.
3.) Millennial-centered marketing often reflects prejudices of marketers
We tend to see the world through our own biases and experiences. As marketers and advertisers have a huge say on what we get to see, their viewpoints are far more visible than everyone else’s. As this group is often self-selecting, this leads to a massive skewing of popular ideas of “millennials”.
4.) Millennial marketing uses inaccurate stereotypes
For one thing, many millennials are now parents. Some millennials are even parents to other millennials. The spending habits of this subset are far different from their supposed peers’.
The alleged tech-savviness of millennials is also turning out to be untrue, specifically in the American context. A report by the math and tech nonprofit Change the Equation, shows that around 58 percent of millennials have not mastered tech skills that help in optimizing productivity.
Also, in a broad sense everyone is taking on the qualities most associated with millennials. Gen Xers and baby boomers are also on social media and are heavy tech consumers as well. Older generations are likewise taking advantage of the benefits of living in an interconnected world. Of course there are late adopters, but even the millennial generation has a few of those too.
Forget everything you know about “millennial marketing”. Marketers should understand that almost everyone “shops like a millennial” these days. It makes little sense to associate the millennial stereotype with buying behaviors that are really just a function of living in a world where nearly everyone has a mobile internet connection. Marketing strategies that focus on outdated and patently wrong notions of millennials are far less useful than ones that look into geographic and subcultural traits.
Photo credit: State Farm and Harris Poll conducted a State of Neighbors survey via photopin (license)
What do you believe about millennials and their stereotypes? Comment below!