There’s been a lot of hubbub about how to best market to millennials, which makes sense—the millennial population adds up to more than 70 million, and makes up about 35% of the U.S. workforce, according to the Pew Research Center. Now that those born between 1980 and 1999 are in the workforce, millennials have about $200 billion in annual spend to contribute. So, yes, understanding how best to market to millennials warrants some attention.
But as a millennial myself, I can tell you that marketing to my generation isn’t all that different from marketing to any other. Sure, there are a few things that marketers should do to make their ads more appealing (personalized, omnichannel marketing comes to mind), but the basics are still the same.
How Chevy Lampooned Millennial Stereotypes (with a Debatable Degree of Success)
To demonstrate this point, let’s look at this 2016 Chevy commercial. It shows a millennial focus group evaluating potential commercials that stereotype millennials as hipsters who love their phones, friends, and frolicking out in nature with sparklers. It’s not so different from the Dissolve ad that showcases stock footage of what marketers think makes up the average millennial, and mocking it appropriately.
In general, the Chevy ad was not well-received. A parody was even made of it. But it makes a really good point about how marketers tend to approach millennial stereotypes—and how their marketing efforts quickly turn into pandering because of it.
In the Chevy commercial, the focus group participants all look like they were pulled from a coffee shop in some swanky city where it’s okay to wear a crop top to work (note: I can think of no situation other than a bar where it’s okay to wear a crop top to work). Most of them look like your quintessential hipsters, replete with man buns, dyed hair, shaved heads, trendy clothes, piercings and tattoos—but they also take offense at all the hipsters in the ad.
This irony is acknowledged by the group, one saying in reference to the demographic shown, “It’s a little too cliché, as I sit here with a beard and tattoos.” But this shows just how ineffective these types of ads are: even the people who are being directly marketed to are opposed to marketing that uses stereotypes, and it’s not because we are so unique and wrinkle our noses at being branded so perfectly. It’s because the focus is all wrong.
“What does this have to do with a car?” A focus group participant finally asks when shown a still of millennials on a beach hanging out with friends while their car is parked in the distance.
“What’s the price? What are the options, what are the features?” another asks. With this runaround, Chevy is saying that relating to millennials is not nearly as important as having a product or service that meets their needs.
The host finally asks, “So what you’re saying is, you don’t want us to build an ad that appeals to you, you want us to build a car that appeals to you?”
Focus on What Millennials Value, Not Who You Think They Are
Forget trying to capture “who millennials are” and instead focus on what millennials want and need, and how your product can deliver it to us. Look at what we value as opposed to what we do in our free time to relate to us, and do it in a way that doesn’t play off millennial stereotypes.
At the end of the commercial, the host shows the focus group the car and points out some key features that most appeal to a millennial audience, like phone connectivity, 4G LTE Wi-Fi capabilities, and fuel efficiency. The millennials swoon—not because Chevy is finally showing millennials as we truly are, but because they’re selling a product that homes in on our issues and the features that matter to our generation.
Conveying that message did not take emojis or hashtags—it doesn’t require a vast knowledge of the latest slang or fashions. In the end, trends come and go; passions and values are much more enduring, and that’s what should be marketed to. To paraphrase one focus group participant from the ad, we don’t care about who’s in the car, we care about what’s in it.
What millennials want is a brand that relates to us, rather than a brand that is us. That’s an easy ask of marketers. After all, who hasn’t been living paycheck to paycheck before, or wants to be able to spend more time with their friends? Growing up, navigating adulthood, and all the struggles and hurdles that come with it haven’t changed so much over the generations—and that’s a genuine way you can connect with us.
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