Millennials missing the bus

15 December 2015

Y Not: The End Of Millennial Marketing?

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Guy Who Loves Millennials… And Many Other Segments; photo by Maru Lombardo on Unsplash

My Strategic Marketing students last year had a running joke. For every business challenge in the universe, they would say, “We plan to target millennials using social media.” That got a laugh every time. After all, everyone knows that social media marketing is a joke for most brands.

As for marketing to millennials, a recent article in Ad Age claims that many marketers are finally realizing there may be better options. “RIP Millennials: Marketing Will Be ‘Age Agnostic’ Next Year” states:

“In 2016, marketing and communications professionals will stop targeting millennials as one demographic and focus on reaching the younger consumers based on their passions, according to a study released today by Hotwire PR. The agency’s seventh annual ‘Communications Trends Report,’ which was based on crowdsourced data from 400 communicators across 22 countries, revealed that brands will look to engage consumers with age-agnostic content that emphasizes certain values.”

By the way, the funniest part about that article was the ad that ran above it…

Ad Age headline on the end of millennial marketing


I’m guessing that the American Association of Retired Persons won’t be age-agnostic anytime soon.

But for most brands, focusing on interests instead of just age makes sense — and this realization is way overdue. As I noted in my 2008 post “Divide and Conquer: Segment Your Market without Pissing Anyone Off”, targeting any demographic risks stereotyping that segment, which can either anger its members or leave many of them out of the picture. Here’s what I wrote on Gen Y in particular:

“So here’s the stereotype: young people tend to do more discretionary spending than older people, who have families, mortgages and other financial commitments. Consequently, many entrepreneurs go after the younger set (usually 18-to-35-year-olds). The first problem, of course, is stereotyping. What does a young person want? Well, are you talking about the pre-med student in Portland, the rap artist in Detroit, the Marine stationed in Afghanistan, or the aspiring priest in San Antonio?”

Unfortunately, too many marketers are still nonsensically chasing demographics — particularly younger consumers. A marketing pro I know recently pitched the tourism bureau of Guam. The bureau’s rep actually responded, “How do you plan to reach millennials?”

Of course, everyone knows that millennials dream of spending $2000 just for a 15-hour flight to a remote island with few attractions besides beaches. True, for $2000 they could score a full-on vacation to Cabo San Lucas, but Cabo sure ain’t Guam, right?

(Note to Guam: Odds are, your target market consists of wealthy frequent travelers who have:

  1. already been everywhere else
  2. an interest in Guam’s World War II history
  3. and really long vacations.

I doubt that includes many millennials.)

So I’m hopeful that marketers will finally get over their millennial obsession in 2016. After all, as everyone knows, the next big thing is Gen Z…

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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