Generation Hide-and-Seek: Why Millennials Can't Be Reached With Conventional Advertising

Millennials. Always connected, yet so elusive. Each spends an average of nearly 18 hours per day on media, according to a recent study by Crowdtap. By 2018, Oracle predicts that their annual spending power will eclipse Boomers at $3.39 trillion. Naturally, marketers are concentrating an increasing portion of their ad budget trying to reach them. 

It isn’t easy. Google “advertising Millennials,” and you’ll be inundated with posts about how difficult it is to get and keep their attention. As the head of a digital advertising company and the proud father of two Millennials, I see both sides of the coin. 



Why is advertising to 18-34 year olds like playing a game of hide and seek? Here are a couple of reasons traditional ad-serving tactics don’t work with these digital natives: 

#1: Free to be ad-free

Millennials are consuming a ton of content that doesn’t necessarily contain advertising like paid cable, on demand streaming, and social media and gaming. In fact, this generation spends almost 30% of its time on user-generated content and prioritize social networking above all other media types, with 71% saying they engage in social media daily.

For advertisers who are used to thinking of content as the primary way to reach their desired audience, this is a problem.  

Take HBO’s “Girls,” for example. A brand that wants to reach young women 18-34 would pay a king’s ransom to advertise within this female-focused, hipster cultural touchstone. But that’s impossible in the premium cable environment, where the networks make their money from subscribers rather than advertising.

#2: So many devices (and platforms), so little time

Consumer attention is increasingly split across many screens. The number of video-playing devices nearly doubled from 2010 to 2012 to nearly four devices per person, according to Magna Global. 

This is especially true of Millennials, who rely on mobile devices more than any other generation. Four of five use a smartphone compared to just over two of three 35-54 year olds and two of five 55+ year olds. Their attention is also split more among platforms. In contrast to Gen X and Boomers, Millennials are active on all seven major social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Snapchat.

For advertisers who are used to thinking of campaigns device-by-device, this uber-fragmentation makes reaching Millennials seem insurmountable.

The solution: Audience is king

With Millennials hiding out in ad-free content across a multitude of devices and platforms, how do advertisers find and engage them? 

The solution lies in looking beyond content (and even demos) and across screens with a unified view of the audience. 

Consider this: Content is just a proxy for audience and, as such, it’s inefficient. Meaning, even if you could advertise within “Girls” to reach 18-34-year-old women, you’d be wasting a good portion of your spend on the wrong audience. That’s because a substantial percentage of the show’s audience is bound to be outside that target demo. Don’t believe me? A couple of seasons ago, a slew of pubs reported the shocking news that “Girls” was drawing its biggest ratings from men over 50!

Not being able to buy ads within coveted shows may not be such a raw deal for advertisers anyway because there’s a better way to reach the precise audience you want.

How? Advertisers simply need to bring the power of their own consumer data into the multiscreen digital world. 

This digital generation is spending time researching and buying online. Seventy-eight percent of shoppers use the Internet to research and purchase products and services, according to Cisco. Marketers need to pay attention to this gigantic digital consumer footprint to accurately pinpoint who’s in-market for their product or service. The results are bound to shed light on the inefficiencies of demographic and content targeting.

That’s why we must reframe our thinking. It’s no longer about throwing a dart at a piece of content and hoping that it hits some in-market consumers. Advertisers can now reach the people they want, not retrofit their media selection based on ad space availability. So they can win that game of hide and seek — whether they’re playing with Millennials or the rest of us.

1 comment about "Generation Hide-and-Seek: Why Millennials Can't Be Reached With Conventional Advertising".
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  1. S. F. from Comcast, April 7, 2014 at 1:14 p.m.

    Joe, as a millennial myself, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Yet the question remains, how. Due to the technical difficulty of tracking users across different devices, there is not yet a solution to consistently identify the same user on desktop and mobile/tablet, not to mention targeting them across devices. Do-not-track and tighten government control also add to the problem. Can you elaborate on how "advertisers simply need to bring the power of their own consumer data into the multiscreen digital world"? Any case study to share? thanks .

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