Feel the Bern

Brands can learn from Bernie when wooing the young 

These days most of the news media is besotted with Donald Trump. But over on the left there’s a battle going on that’s got some important lessons for anyone trying to engage young adults. Hilary may have won Nevada but she lost the younger vote -- with Hispanics (supposedly a Clinton strength) under 45 years old voting 70% to 27% for Bernie (abcnevadapoll). And a poll (MetroNewsWestVirgina) out of West Virginia has Sanders leading 57% to 29%, driven by total dominance among 18-34s. 

Some commentators put Bernie Sanders’s appeal down to naïve idealism. Yet others on the right put it down to simple bribery given Bernie’s promises of free healthcare and university education for all. While I’m sure both of those factors play a role, it feels like there is something bigger going on. And I’m thinking it’s an emotional appeal that taps young adults’ demands for honesty, transparency and integrity.  



Millennials and even more so the emerging Centennials (or Gen Z) are far from being naïve kids, despite the way they’re often portrayed by establishment journalists. As a group, they’re better educated than any previous generation -- and thanks to their mastery of social media -- they’ve access to information and opinions from everywhere and everyone. In short, they’re totally capable of searching out the truth and drawing their own conclusions. 

What younger adults want from their politicians is exactly what they want from any commercial brand: authenticity, veracity and substance. Add that younger voters, especially the 18 – 24s, have a healthy distrust of authority and the establishment. Which means things don’t look good for either Mrs. Clinton or any other ‘brand’ that holds back parts of their truth. While older millennials grew up during husband Bill Clinton’s term, a time of relative affluence and peace, their younger siblings grew up under George W, with recession, hardship and war leaving them resilient but distrustful of social and political norms.    

I’ve no beef with Mrs. Clinton and given her strength among seniors and the Super Delegates, she’s still almost certain to win [as she did on Super Tuesday]. But it’s salutatory to see Bernie Sanders, who is old enough to be their grandfather or even their great grandfather, connect so well with younger voters. He’s not doing it through clever marketing and big ad budgets, but by being totally open about who he is and what he believes in. That’s a lesson countless brands who dream of winning with young people should take to heart.

Next story loading loading..