26 Aug 2014

The Millennial Issue

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There’s already a wealth of information written about Millennials, the 14-35 year olds who are upending the long-held notions of how advertising is supposed to work. It’s a fascinating group. This summer, the real power and puzzle of this demographic was brought home to me in the form of our college-returning son, age 20. 

Summer break! Our college son is home. We fully expected to observe a week of sloth, a bit of stern talking to about sleep habits, career, getting a summer job, procrastination, eventual hire. The usual roller coaster of joy and tears.

Not to be. Day 2, by 11AM, summer job scored. Work started next day at 6AM and lasted until 6PM 5 days a week. Hard work. Landscaping. Work ended just 4 days before he returned to school.

Summer break lasted about 10 weeks. During this time, we observed son and girlfriend watching precisely 0 hours 0 minutes of broadcast television. We even asked for confirmation. “Yeah, no. I don’t really watch TV.” After a long day in the sun doing physical labor, our Millennial wanted nothing more than to check in socially on his phone and do a little research on YouTube and on weekends, to Netflix (verb) an hour or two away.

So, while we advertisers knew Millennials were tough to reach, it was fascinating to see it first hand. Our son is largely invisible to advertising messages. But he still gets branding influences. How?

Socially. (And our whole concept of Brand Touch® is getting validated all over again.) Peers. Some national celebs with influence.

There’s a new brand on the fashion block up here in New England. Vineyard Vines. While the Millennials abandon Abercrombie, they are finding Vineyard Vines. Or some are. The trendsetters. And the word is spreading. Through Instagram. And Pinterest. I think this is an interesting example to watch. 

As much as we understood the habits of the Boomers, we are going to have to watch these Millennials closely. They change habits like they change brands. As Hemmingway said, "Slowly at first, then all at once.” Their friends and peers matter so much more than institutions. Their style is two-way. As brand maintainers, we better be ready. They have the world at their fingertip. And they know it.