The Problem With Labeling A Market As Millennials

If you were born between about 1980 and 1995, congratulations. You are a member of the most important generation of people in the history of the world. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but it might also be a logical conclusion for anyone keeping up with current marketing interests. Each day we are bombarded with the latest in research and insider tips for reaching Millennials. 

The big news, of course, is that the Baby Boomer generation is sailing off into the sunset, and the new target is, in broad terms, their children. This group is the largest generation yet, numbering nearly 80 million in the U.S. alone. Naturally, marketers are drooling at the concept of this fresh batch of targets, ripe for inundation and indoctrination into the world of advertising.

We’re told by the reams of data gathered that Millennials are tech-savvy, brand-agnostic, health-conscious and ultra-cynical, so any marketing and advertising directed to them needs to be “real” or “authentic,” or some other aspect that doesn’t scream “you’re being sold to!” 



Here is the problem with that: there is no possible way that 80 million people, born across a span of 15 years, can consistently be anything. I can think of many people who fit the attributes outlined above, but many of them are aging Boomers, including me.

The entire concept of a cohesive generation came about with the Baby Boomer generation. These were the children born post-WWII, from 1946 to 1964. They were the counter-culture, generation gap kids, who were intent on overturning the establishment and all it stood for. Forty years ago there was a driving zeitgeist with the Boomers to push back at the things they blamed their parents for: Vietnam, the Cold War, pollution, etc. That time has passed, the Boomers got older, and there is no longer a high level of generational discontent to bind the group together. Today, Boomers are the establishment. But they are also in many ways tech-savvy, brand-agnostic, health-conscious and ultra-cynical. 

If the past 50 years has taught us anything, it should be that there is no “normal” any longer. The concept of Baby Boomers came from the days of President Eisenhower, and “Ozzie and Harriet” on television. While it’s true that trends and fads often begin with younger folks, in our hyper-connected world they spread at the speed of light—and without regard for age. 

Case in point: Toyota created its spinoff Scion brand a few years ago to appeal to young, hip car buyers. Guess who the best customers are for this edgy new brand? Sixty-something retirees who like the unique design and overall practicality, not to mention the low price. 

Technology has changed the world in many ways, one of which is allowing the spread of information in ways and at a speed never before seen. Facebook—also once a site for the younger set—is now over a billion users strong. Its largest growth comes from the aging Boomers. Teens have moved on to Instagram and Snapchat, both of which are now being invaded by their parents as well. There is no safe harbor for Millennials, and there is no clear delineation between generations, other than age, as there was with the Boomers and their parents. 

Finally, and this is perhaps the most important point, there is no good reason to market to Millennials as a group. Our connected lifestyles make individual data points widely available. Facebook knows things about you that your parents don’t know. From that data and knowledge comes insight, which advertisers use to fashion relevant marketing messages based, not on one’s age, but more on one’s actual behaviors and interests. 

Marketing to Millennials is lazy marketing. More importantly, it won’t work, particularly not in a world of targeted, data-driven messaging that is more on point than targeting by age group. It’s time to stop talking about generations, and time to get to work mining the data we have on individuals to make our messages more impactful—and more effective.

3 comments about "The Problem With Labeling A Market As Millennials".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Tom Goodwin from Tomorrow, October 16, 2014 at 8:12 a.m.

    Great piece, I completely agree and have been getting increasingly annoyed about this laziness and bluntness over the last few months.
    The other thing to remember when targeting this group is that they have way less money, way less loyalty than those over 50. The real money to be made these days is selling to that demographic but nobody is doing it. Young people are also not the key influencers the world would have us believe, they are some of the worst consumers we could ever wish for, yet we do everything we can to speak to them.

  2. CJ McCabe from C-Mac, October 16, 2014 at 4:44 p.m.

    "...there is no possible way that 80 million people, born across a span of 15 years, can consistently be anything."

    Oh, yeah?
    Tell that to the Baby Boomers.
    Bunch of damn hippies.
    And I oughta know.
    I was... er, AM one.

    CJ McCabe... Class of '73.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 15, 2014 at 2:15 p.m.

    Do you know who was touring and climbing Machu Picchu last month ? People in their 70's and 80's with the financial means to do it. Any advertiser with an ounce of desire to stay in business should have you as their prime consultant.

Next story loading loading..