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Is advertising too obsessed with millennials?

The Trade Desk


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April 18, 2016 | 5 min read

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Millennials are highly sought after by marketers and brands. In fact, they’re in such high demand that they earn 5x spend from marketers compared to other groups. With 51 percent of consumer spending done by people over 50, are we missing the forest for the trees?

It’s not easy to justify all that extra attention on millennials. Is it because brands put a higher value on building long lasting relationships with a younger generation? It’s a compelling argument, but not strong enough to justify marketing spend half an order of magnitude higher than for other groups, many of whom are just as likely to convert.

Are marketers obsessed with unraveling the enigma of the Millennial, a starkly different consumer than any we’ve seen before? Millennials trust ads more than other groups. They’re also pretty good at filtering them out. Maybe advertisers like the challenge that accompanies cracking the code.

Another reason millennials get the lion’s share of the conversation is the prevailing assumption they’re tech savvy leaders in a world growing more connected every day. Though we don’t talk about it much, the data tells us this presumption is patently false.

Millennials are active technology users who tend to own devices in higher percentages than other groups. But it turns out they’re less tech savvy than many people assume: 58 percent of millennials haven’t been able to master workplace productivity tech skills. Millennials are born into a world of easy to use technology like smartphones and social media. More complicated technology presents a real world hurdle.

There’s a major difference between tech dependency and tech savviness. If you want to look at dependency, millennials actually aren’t that far ahead of Gen Xers. Things get even more surprising when you take into account the fact that baby boomers represent 25 percent of the population but 40 percent of spending on technology. They’ve quickly adopted home-based technology, making them the first tech-savvy retirees.

Baby boomers like Forbes writer Larry Magid and author Bob Hoffman are flat-out insulted by the characterisation that boomers don’t understand technology. “It was my generation that invented personal computers,” Magid writes. “Many of us used CP/M, DOS or even Unix long before Macs and PCs had graphical user interfaces.”

As advertisers, our characterisation of specific demographics don’t always fit reality. Millennials aren’t the gold standard audience. But even if they were, why are we targeting based on big, amorphous age groups when we have the power to do so much more?

The scalability and relevance that programmatic advertising offers actually suggests we might be missing the wood for the trees. Advertising technology empowers marketers with the ability to microtarget audiences or even target individuals on a one to one basis. By deconstructing the myth that millennials are their highest value audience, marketers can redefine who their most important customers really are.

Advertisers are already starting to recognise the benefits of addressing audiences age-agnostically, instead honing in on audiences that share passions. It’s time to push past our obsession with millennials and focus on learning more intimately about our audiences.

James Patterson, GM, UK, The Trade Desk

Tel: +44 (0) 203 826 7105



Twitter: @TheTradeDeskInc

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