MTV Research: It's (Video) Game Time For Marketers

MTV Networks rarely disappoints with its research that delves into the emotions, influences and behaviors of a particular demographic. And, a Harvard Business Review blog post offers more stimulating analysis as it lays out a be-fair-or-get-fired attitude the millennial generation harbors towards marketers.

“Millennials demand fairness, transparency and clear, consistent rules in every aspect of life,” writes author Nick Shore, a senior vice president in MTV’s research group. “And as consumers, they feel comfortable leveraging their power (individually or collectively) to ‘level the playing field’ – with 70% claiming, ‘If a company is unfair with me, I’ll figure out how to make things fair.'”

If frustrated by fine print in cell phone contracts, millennials might strike back, looking to take advantage of “exploitable loopholes.” Frustrated by a certain bundling practice, “they more or less took down the record industry, demanding the right to buy and download single songs versus entire CDs,” Shore wrote in the HBR post.



Airlines with blackout dates and all kinds of restrictions on using rewards points might be at particular risk of piquing millennials, prompting Shore to note how Southwest Airlines has navigated successfully through their frustrations with its “no red tape” program, which has proven to be a “#winning strategy.”

Social media might giveth and taketh away, but also giveth again. Anger at a would-be exploitive company might prompt a rush of commentary on Twitter by millennials, yet a mea culpa could restore trust.

Shore writes that “millennials don’t expect perfection – they accept apologies from brands that have ‘wronged’ them.”

At MTV, the respected research group is constantly conducting exhaustive research – often using unusual approaches, including famously moving in with subjects for brief periods. The aim is to serve as golden guides for development of hit programming for 12-to-24 year-olds, and persuading advertisers to follow.

In his Harvard Business Review post, Shore offers an MTV playbook for millennial-seeking marketers that includes strategies such as “leverage the leaderboard” and “hand over that joystick” -- not surprising metaphors considering the playbook is rooted in MTV’s 2011 study “Let’s Play Brand.”

During the research, MTV found half of millennials said that “people my age see real life as a video game” and nearly 60% said “#winning is the slogan of my generation.”

“The study has given us startling reaffirmation of our intuition that a ‘game-like metaphor’ applies to almost every aspect of millennial life,” Shore wrote.

A win-or-lose mentality does seem to break with some suggestions about millennial psychographics. A 2010 New York Times blog post cited an “oft-heard claim that the rising generation is more idealistic, activist, etc. than their parents.”

And yet, in that same post, Wheaton College English Professor Alan Jacobs wrote that a new book examining millennials conveyed: “Voices critical of mass consumerism, materialistic values, or the environmental or social costs of a consumer-driven economy were nearly nonexistent among emerging adults.”  

MTV’s Shore writes that millennials' cynicism and interest in short cuts is such that the workplace is viewed as a game, where “power players can find the back door to the top floor.”

So, MTV's five-step playbook looks to help marketers offer a “gamified brand experience.” There’s a suggestion that an updated version of the old comparative shopping -- we’ll beat anyone's best price -- might work.

Research shows 80% of millennials want to know how their deals stack up against what others got. And 74% believe they've "‘won’ when they get more than the average consumer.” MTV says Zappos has tapped into this gaming as it will surprise a customer random free overnight shipping.

MTV also suggests when marketers offer deals, they find a way to let consumers discover them -- maybe go with what's described as pull rather than push marketing. Let millennials even feel as if they’ve been smart enough to “hack the system” or find “back stairs to the next level.”

MTV labels the Zappos tactic of unexpected bonuses as “positive randomness.” It seems logical that the chance of unexpected happiness can lead to loyalty. MTV's Shore touts using "enough structure to understand the rules, with enough unpredictability to keep it interesting in perpetuity.” 

Separately, MTV indicates marketers should put forth even more effort to give consumers a voice. Crowdsourcing of TV ads and logo designs is one opportunity.

In the vein of empowering consumers, MTV again references cell phone marketing, citing millennials saying they want the opportunity for “do-overs” with contracts. That would resemble using the reset button on an Xbox.

It really is game time for marketers -- video game time.  

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