Gen Z McDonald's McCann

The 4Ps of marketing that unlock Millennials and Gen Z

By Sean MacDonald, Global chief digital officer

January 22, 2021 | 6 min read

Most of us are familiar with the ‘5Ps’ of marketing. However, Millennials and Gen Z require different considerations for marketers looking to successfully connect with them. McCann’s Worldgroup’s global chief digital officer Sean MacDonald explains.


As a Gen Xer, Millennials and Gen Zers have always felt a bit elusive. Their high ideals feel unattainable. Their lust for new experiences that can be cataloged on Instagram seems insatiable. And their shared economy mindset in which they own very little feels at odds with my desire to scoop up assets and put down roots. On the bright side, they seem to be ushering in a larger evolution of culture, which values a more equality-based, free-spirited shift away from rigid hierarchical ruling powers of yore.

But how do brands evolve to meet these new cohorts, whose spending power increases by the minute? How do we tap into this generation that has incredible agency around creativity and conversation, and who are constantly crafting their social identities through photography, filmmaking and written narratives? How do we give them a voice when we’ve been trained to use our power to curate and editorialize for the masses?

We older, perhaps less wise ones were trained in the 5Ps of Marketing (product, price, promotion, place and people). But all hail the queen, the 5Ps appears to be dead. If we want to unlock the potential of these increasingly important younger segments, we need to radically change how we are thinking. It’s no longer the 5Ps, but the 4Ps that matter: purpose, positioning, personalized and partnerships.

1. Purpose: Millennials and Gen Z are a higher consciousness generation that are very inclusive and look to brands that share their values. For example, L’Oreal Paris demonstrated its commitment to serving diverse audiences when it developed its True Match Super Blendable Makeup with 45 skin shades and included both women and men from all walks of life in its marketing. And Ben and Jerry’s put out a bold social post that said “We Must Dismantle White Supremacy” in large gray letters, continuing years of social activism. Sometimes, it is these smaller tactics that make a huge impact.

2. Positioning: With such a strong experience-oriented mindset, context becomes very important for a generation more focused on life-changing experiences than on things. To launch the new Le Marché des Merveilles collection of watches, Gucci commissioned international artists to develop original imagery that was then given to viral creators already famous on Twitter and Instagram to turn into new memes. The result was a curated collection of captioned art designed to help potential customers express themselves online. The Gucci podcast hosts people like Jane Fonda and Lil Nas X to discuss Gucci Off the Grid. Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine discussed her poetry, which was also read at the Gucci Wooster Bookstore. This ecosystem of creativity, narratives and experiences provide many points for this generation to align with and express themselves.

Brands must look beyond their immediate products to create a culture and experience that embraces the younger generations… if they relate to your content, they’ll be far more likely to become loyal customers.

3. Personalized: Millennials and Gen Z want something they can put their stamp on and that feels personal or personalized to them. Brands need to feel authentic and they want to be in conversation with the brand. The KitKat Chocolatory website allows people to create bespoke bars and personalized gift boxes for Mother’s Day as well as special edition flavors like ‘Zingtastic Gin and Tonic’. KitKat has served over a million customers in its physical Chocolatory stores in Japan with high-end KitKat flavors such as raspberry-infused dark chocolate, orange-chocolate rum, cherry blossom and green tea. This spectrum of unique offerings helps the younger generation put their personal stamp on the brand – a crucial element for any brand hoping to create long-standing relationships with young consumers.

4. Partnerships: When brands favored by Gen Z and Millennials work together, there is both a halo effect and potential broadening of the lifestyle story of the brand that can happen. A perhaps unexpected partnership came in the form of the Travis Scott Meal from McDonald’s, which is simply Travis Scott’s favorite meal that was promoted for $6. Cardi B collaborated with Reebok to create a sneaker that “amplifies a collective mission to inspire women through self-expression and remaining unapologetically true to oneself”. Gucci is at it again, this time with North Face, showcasing a capsule collection at a lush pop-up shop in trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is an appealing mix of Gucci’s camp aesthetic with North Face’s practicality. Brands that are open to and activate on organic partnerships with complementary brands will experience a brand boost and expand their consumer base to an audience that was likely out of their reach beforehand.

While Gen Z and Millennials can sometimes feel hard to reach, the truth is that they are attainable and accessible if marketers give up old ways of thinking. We can no longer rely on the tried and true of the 5Ps but instead need to evolve our models. Brands can learn from the very free-spirited nature of the very generations they are seeking to connect with, adopting their thirst for creativity and reinvention by evolving and condensing the 5Ps. With the 4Ps, marketers can make inroads and evolve with culture as it changes around us.

Sean MacDonald is global chief digital officer McCann Worldgroup.

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