Myths surrounding the millennial generation are damaging brands’ ability to effectively engage their real audience, according to industry experts.
In a marketing industry obsessed with youth and the new, no wonder that so much attention has been showered on today’s 16 to 34-year-olds.
Yet industry practitioners suggest that to date, little insight has been shed on the real millennials, the one in every four adults in the UK – focusing instead on the trendy outliers or on dissecting their media usage in an age where this audience increasingly does not differentiate between devices.
The insight forms the third part of the The Drum’s discussions with agencies of the findings of Bauer Knowledge: The Millennials Chapter, a landmark piece of research into the millennial generation.
For Maxus London head of planning Jen Smith, this intense scrutiny of real-world millennials is very important.“This research is about normal young people and I love the fact that there are a large number of teenagers and twenty-somethings who feel and act in a similar way to how I was at that age. Too often we hear only about the extremes.”
Pauline Robson, head of real world insight at MediaCom, agrees. Gen Y encompasses a huge age range in terms of life stage and life experience, something often ignored in generic research.
“At the older end, you have people who are technically not digital natives, though will have had access to digital technology in their formative years. They may now be married with children of their own and with very different life views and spending priorities,” she says.
At the younger end are people who are still at school, still working out their identities and who they want to be, and having grown up in a completely different media and technology landscape from a 34 year old.
Says Robson: “We shouldn’t be looking at audiences as a homogenous generational group.”
Yet where these millennials go, how they act and react is important for brands, because they act as an ‘early warning system’ for the audience trends and behaviours of tomorrow. It’s why there is growing excitement for the next youth tranche – the Generation Zers who are soon to come of age.
And it will be all change again, predicts Lise Pinnell, AnalogFolk London head of planning.
“They have only ever known a world in recession,” she says. “They know first hand how unforgiving the online world can be. They will be older and wiser before their time.”
They will, believes Pinnell, demand personalisation and authenticity more than ever. Data will have to grow up, and agencies and brands will need to learn how to use that big data in better, smarter ways in order to personalise and customise products, tools, and services for them.
Smith is, too, is hopeful for tomorrow’s young adults, who she believes will have learnt from today’s “test dummies”. “Generation Z will have adapted to others’ mistakes and their behaviours will reflect this,” she says. “It will be better for them.”
In the excitement of the new and the novel, however, brands must not forget their existing audiences, many of whom have adapted seamlessly to the behaviours claimed for the millennials.
As Robson says: “Let’s not forget that advertisers ignore the baby boomers at their peril. We live in a youth-obsessed world and a particularly youth-obsessed industry.”
It is well documented that the over 50s hold a disproportionate amount of the wealth of the nation and have significantly more disposable income than millennials and yet, suggests Robson, so few advertisers are connecting with them in a meaningful way.
She adds: “There are numerous myths that persist about this audience, that they are afraid of technology, that they set in their ways, unadventurous and unwilling to try new things. All things that our research shows is not the case.”
Bauer Knowledge: The Millennial Chapter is funded by Bauer Media but all content is editorially independent, except pieces labelled "brought to you by". Find out more here