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Why Millennials “Can’t Even” with Brands

Kelly wrote this on November 22, 2016 • 7 minute read

Today I googled “marketing to millennials” and this is what came up:


Every day, listicle blog posts are being published that tell marketers like you how to reach millennials like me. This is not one of those articles.

Brands believe they’re completely dialled in on how our minds work and how we live our daily lives. “Want to reach millennials? Use emojis! Facebook is so five years ago, millennials are all about Snapchat now.”

We’re not so different than generations before us; at the end of the day we want happiness, love, prosperity, and a better customer experience. Our generation has evolved in certain aspects, like a desire for transparency, but this should be attributed to our constant exposure to ads. We didn’t suddenly decide one day that authenticity from brands is something we crave–this is a direct result of having to sift through endless advertisements to find the ones with substance.

Here’s a perfect example of marketers thinking they’ve got us figured out. Ford recently released a commercial for the Ford Focus on their Facebook page that was very obviously meant to target millennials. The entire spot mimicks the hit 90s cartoon show, Dragon Ball Z, and even uses the original voice actors from the show. Check out the full spot here:

The ad generated a slew of negative feedback for two reasons: these marketers didn’t really understand their target audience, and their message was completely disingenuous.


This is very obviously a car ad with no real substance, using a beloved show from our youth to make a sale. The entire attempt to relate to millennials cheapens both the brand and the show. Want to know how to reach millennials? Market to us as though we’re your equal, a friend you’re sharing a product you love with, and an intellect who can see right through thinly veiled sales pitches.

As brands continue shifting towards digital marketing, they’re beginning to care more about millennials and their buying habits. Brands are under the impression that we’re all the same, and that we’re all selfie-taking teenagers who consider our cell phones an extension of our body. Or maybe you think we’re all in our early 20’s, living at home, and financially dependent on our parents.

Companies or brands that successfully market to millennials are ones that recognize that there is no such thing as a ‘millennial’ — just individuals or groups of individuals who are at a similar life stage and have lived through similar experiences. They want to be treated for who they are, rather than be lumped together and labeled.” (Leadscon)

Millennials in 2016 are described as anyone between the ages of 19-35, which is a massive range in life stages. Were you interested in the same lifestyle at 19 as you were at 35? We’re mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, students and bosses, traditionalists and progressive trailblazers. Some of us have houses in the suburbs, while others reside in shoebox apartments in the middle of the city. Some of us save, some of us don’t. It isn’t about marketing to millennials, it’s about marketing smarter across the board.

We’re not the only consumers that are evolving–the Baby Boomer customer that exists today expects a far different customer experience than they did 25 years ago. Today’s marketing is about generating a conversation, and less about closing a sale in the first interaction. Most consumers today, regardless of their defined generation, require multiple touch points before even considering a purchase.



Millennials are savvy customers, and for us, transparency is everything. We can spot disingenuous brands from a mile away, and are willing to call you on it. We like being spoken to like we’re your equal, not your customer. Your brand stands for something, so make it apparent what that is. This gives your brand depth, making it easier to buy into something that has a story, a pulse, or an angle.

Have a brand that’s accessible on multiple platforms because, despite popular belief, not all millennials use the same social media platforms. Some of us like Instagram, some of us don’t. Some of us don’t even know what Snapchat is. To assume that you can “tap into millennials” through one social avenue is like assuming all Baby Boomers religiously read the newspaper every morning. Accessibility to your brand in today’s culture is not only important, it’s crucial. The diagram below shows a study done by Ipsos, which focussed on how present millennials actually are on social media platforms:



The study showed that millennials are not on as many social media platforms as marketers continue to believe. The Ipsos study goes on to state, “To lump all Millennials together as one group… would be a mischaracterization, and a mistake for marketers”. Each platform appeals to different sectors of the millennial age group, with different interests, values and drivers.

The one-size-fits-all mentality that marketers are using to reach millennials is a lazy way of looking at audience targeting. The most harmful thing a brand can do to their marketing strategy is to assume we’re all the same, and that we’re all going to respond the way they’d like us to.

Don’t pander to us–create content that cleverly finds a middle ground. Old Spice’s well-known 2010 campaign is the epitome of smart marketing. The ad was a massive hit and boosted sales because Old Spice didn’t try too hard to use trendy buzzwords, they simply had a great story:

According to Apaceffie, P&G studies showed that 60% of men’s body wash purchases were actually made by women, a market that had not yet been tapped. Old Spice wanted to create content that would get both sexes talking about body wash, and targeted specific platforms that they knew would reach males and females at the same time (such as in movie theatres over Valentine’s Day weekend). Using their credibility as a mens-first brand in a category of primarily female-driven brands, the concept of The Man Your Man Could Smell Like was born.

The genius of Old Spice’s strategy lies in the research they had done into the men’s body wash category, and the fact that the campaign was relatable to the masses. Old Spice wasn’t solely relying on the newest social media platforms to make sales, they had tapped into universal cultural truths that audiences related to.

Determine which social platforms your brand’s target audience truly interacts with the most, and build clever, relatable content. Only then will you truly engage with someone like me.

And please, stop with the excessive use of emojis. ?


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