MTV Insights Releases Young Millennial Study: 3 Implications For Marketers

Millennials. If you think you have them figured out by now, every week a new study will prove you wrong.  

Recently, MTV unveiled its findings of a study examining young Millennials—those between 13 and 17 years old who will soon move into the sweet spot of MTV’s core target demographic of 18-24 year olds. In a nutshell, MTV found that today’s teens—what the report calls the second wave of Millennials—are experiencing their life stage very differently than their 20-something counterparts did. Today’s teens, according to the report, are a harder-edged group, shaped by harsh economic realities and less made to think they’re special, like the older Millennials stereotypically were. 

The study also found that, as a reaction to the sobering realities of today, this group is adapting survival strategies, which includes preparing for emergencies, specializing in various interests, mono-tasking and filtering things that overwhelm them online. 



MTV’s study seems to confirm a few notable trends we’ve seen recently in media content:  

  • Young Adult (YA) book series are becoming grittier: Going from “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” to “Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and other dystopian series.
  • Where the book series are heading, feature films are following: Because so many tentpole movies are now based on popular young adult series, popcorn movies are going from the chaste and somewhat cuddly to the dark and twisted. Even “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” became darker as the series progressed, their leads get older, the stakes got raised and (arguably) audience tastes matured. 
  • TV genres are also getting harder-edged: ABC Family has gone from being the home of sweet coming-of-age dramas like “The Secret Life Of The American Teen” and “Kyle XY” to the destination for “OMG!” programming such as “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Lying Game.” The CW used to be known for glitzy soaps about rich kids (“90210” and “Gossip Girl”) to the home of supernatural, sci-fi and period pieces (“Vampire Diaries,” “The Tomorrow People,” “Reign” and “The Originals”). On MTV, “Teen Wolf” and “Catfish” are the new face of the network, rather than “Jersey Shore” and other party house shows.

With generational tastes changing yet again, what is a marketer to do? Here are three pieces of advice:

1. Stop making sweeping assumptions

MTV’s study makes it painfully obvious that making assumptions about generations is imprecise, at best. The big range in age for each generation means younger folks from that group might not necessarily have the same experiences, tastes and media behaviors as their older counterparts, even if they were born within the same generation. 

While it is important for marketers to keep their finger on the pulse of what is being said about different generations, they should validate these findings with their own customers. 

2. Commit to having a long relationship with Millennials and the rest of your consumers

If you remember being a teen, you know that it’s a volatile time, a time of many changes. This is still true with today’s teens: how they feel now doesn’t necessarily represent how they will feel in the future. It is imperative to engage with this group and continue to do so in the future. 

For example, if you’re part of the marketing team of a media franchise, you can benefit from learning more about who you’re targeting, the core reasons why they love your franchise and how they’re responding to evolutions with the characters and storylines. With this information in hand, you can make more informed decisions on all aspects of your business from merchandising, to pricing, to branding decisions. Keeping the conversation going, you can also gather insights as your franchise moves from one platform to another. 

3. Engage them—and let them engage with each other

As was pointed out by Allison Hillhouse, vice president of insights innovation at MTV, teens like to unplug when they need to take a break, but they also like to post to social networks afterwards to give a second life to their creations. Teens see social media as a tool to hone their personal self-brand, but they also use it to share their creations to the world. 

While there have been many studies about Millennials—some of them seemingly contradictory—one insight seems to be consistent. Teens have the need to share a part of their lives online with friends, family and the general public. This generation grew up with the Internet, and they are comfortable and happy being featured on it. The emergence of today’s major social networks—Facebook and Tumblr, just to name a couple—was very much driven by this generation’s desire to connect with others online. 

Many marketing folks are reacting to Millennials’ desire to share by trying to join the conversation—by joining and pushing their messages on social media. But I think there is also an opportunity to facilitate this engagement. If you’re on Facebook, you can encourage people to chime in on your page and reply to each other. If you have an insight community, you can use tools such as discussion forums to spark conversations about a topic related to your customers’ lives and behavior. Instead of constantly pushing your own messages, empower your Millennial customers to be heard and to talk to each other.

Figuring out what makes Millennials tick has huge financial implications for brands. But as this MTV study shows, attitudes within this generation vary.  Not only that, but these attitudes are shifting. For marketers, the study is a reminder of the importance of innovative research to better understand the differences within the generation and the changes people experience as they move to different life stages. Engaging your consumers—and doing it consistently—ensures you have a deep understanding of this generation.

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