Millennials, Gen Y, or Nielsen’s Generation "C" (C is for Connected). You can call them what you want -- young adults go by a lot of names. While marketers can’t agree on what to call them, adults 18-34 -- a group that includes both Justin Bieber (he turned 18 in March) and Katie Holmes (Tom Cruise’s ex-wife will be 34 in December) -- is one of the most broadly researched classifications in the media industry.
This is for good reason. Young adults have a tremendous impact on the economy, representing nearly a third of the U.S. adult population and accounting for $200 billion in buying power. They are financially developing and are also making purchase decisions that can influence future earnings for marketers.
Justin, Katie, and lesser-known members of this group grew up in a world that blends technology and choice: hundreds of options on television, high-bandwidth Internet, laptops and mobile devices. They lead the pack in the acquisition of technologies like the smartphone.
Young adults are not just prominent in tech adoption. They have the highest incidence of any age group in such diverse categories as soft drinks, new car purchase intent, movies, and fashion and are heavy fast-food (as well as high-profit) restaurant patrons.
Still, with all this connectedness, marketers need to be smart to effectively communicate with this coveted target. Nielsen, which measures both digital and traditional video, recently reported that traditional TV dominates daily video viewing. Yet traditional network prime-time television has been aging over the past five years, gaining 50+ viewers and losing adults 18-34. In addition, with the advent of the DVR, the majority of young adults are recording their prime-time programs, with half skipping the commercials entirely in playback.
Fortunately, there still are strategies for effective, mass reach of this elusive target.
Throw out "old" thinking
People don’t watch "dayparts" or "networks." They watch specific programs when and how they are convenient for them. During the sweep months of February and May 2012, half of the top ten young adult-rated weekday programs were syndicated programs -- more than any broadcast or cable network. In the summer, syndication’s "Family Guy," "How I Met Your Mother," "The Big Bang Theory," "The Office" and "Two and a Half Men" significantly outrated their network counterparts. Many advertisers look to cable for young adults. However, many of the younger-skewing networks have low daily reach, making it difficult to build large audiences quickly.
Seek live viewing
Sports may seem like a natural choice to reach young men, but marketers need to be selective. Most sports programming, with the exception of the NBA, has a median age of 42 or older. (Major League Baseball has a median age of 49). Syndication sitcoms, on average, deliver a younger male audience than most sports, are viewed “live” and have high audience retention during the commercials.
Aim for short pods, score high recall
The 18- to-34-year-old demographic is known for its multitasking dexterity and limited attention spans. Shorter pods can cut down on distraction. Recall research conducted by Nielsen shows that commercial pods with fewer commercials have the highest recall. Responsible marketers assessing commercial pod length have confirmed what our research has shown -- syndication’s national commercial breaks are significantly shorter than other national options.
Reach beyond your commercial
While 30-second and 15-second commercials may be the foundation of many mass-reach TV campaigns, more and more marketers are integrating their messages within the program itself. Marketers can avoid the long lead times of many scripted network shows by incorporating their messages in syndication’s first-run programming, including entertainment news shows like "TMZ." Since these properties live in the digital world as well, there’s no limit to the engagement available to an advertiser. New technology even allows marketers to become part of the program, virtually placing their product in the scenes of an already produced off-network syndicated show like "How I Met Your Mother."
Young adults are important consumers. While they tend to be more advanced in the number of media options available, they still turn to specific programs that meet their needs and lifestyles. The key to success with young adults is to join with media that is important to them and incorporate a solution that provides high reach as well as strong impact to capture your share of these emerging and influential consumers.