3 Things 2016 Taught Us About Millennials' Relationship With Media

As the dawn of a new year is once again upon us, it is abundantly clear that the majority of people are ready for 2016 to end. It was a year overcome with politically charged turmoil, Zika, (more) mass shootings, Brexit, the crisis in Syria, and, of course, the U.S. Presidential election, to name a few. One group, in particular, didn’t hold back when it came to their feelings and backlash about this year. That’s right: Millennials.

They were glued to their TVs, PCs, and phones—consuming news and content 24/7 from traditional media, social media, owned media and every other kind of media they could get their hands on. Knowing that the “Me” generation is readily eating up content, brands are salivating at myriad opportunities to increase awareness and engage a hungry audience.

But what we know is that engaging millennials takes far more than blasting generic ads and messages their way. This group spends more time on their devices (over two hours a day) than any other age group, and they pretty much demand a trusted, personalized experience. 



Here’s a look at three other things we learned about millennials’ relationship with the media in 2016, that will help better reach them (or rather, cater to them) in 2017.

1. All press is, in fact, not good press

It wouldn’t be a year-in-review without mentioning the 2016 election. After Donald Trump’s electoral college victory over Hillary Clinton, many people looked for an explanation for this unexpected outcome. Policy differences and finger-pointing aside, the influence of earned media on voters can’t be denied. 

Both major party candidates were burdened with scandals that dominated news cycles and headlines throughout the year. Donald Trump even managed to snag $4.6 billion worth of earned media, keeping his name out there—for better or worse—far more than Hillary Clinton did.  

While constant press exposure ultimately boded well for Trump, it wasn’t enough to keep millennials interested in the election. They became increasingly disengaged with the two-party-dominated election and began gravitating toward third-party candidates. 

Even further, the millennial voter turnout was much lower in 2016 than in 2012. Knowing that earned media is an incredible influencer on this generation—and that they were disenchanted by the messages they were hearing from it—it’s no surprise that fewer turned out to support either party. 

Lesson learned: Brands and advertisers can’t rely on high-frequency media exposure alone to influence millennials. They must focus on the tone and sentiment of the information in order to have a direct and significant impact. Resonating with this audience requires more than repeated exposure to brand names.

2. They need brands to be part of the content experience, not a disruption to it

Traditional advertising just doesn’t cut it when reaching out to millennials. Impersonal methods such as print ads, pop-ups, cold calling and direct mail feel disruptive. Think of it this way: millennials don’t want you pushing your products on them; they expect a convincing reason to come to you. According to a survey by Digital Democracy, Millennials who subscribe to streaming services claim they do so because they like that these services allow them to view content whenever they want (74%), wherever they want (66%), and without commercials (71%).

Combined with the fact that 85% of Millennials are more likely to make a purchase if it is personalized to their interests, both in-store and with digital, this year has proven that Millennials will simply ignore you if you don’t at least attempt to understand and cater to them.

Take Kylie Jenner—she’s the #1 followed person on Snapchat and has over 81milliion followers on Instagram. While millennials flood her social channels to follow her life, they double as an audience she can constantly advertise to. Between her own product lines and deals with multiple brands, including Puma athletics, her social channels now serve as major advertising avenues. This is not necessarily secret either; millennials visit her channels to experience her life and understand that her endorsements are a part of her story.

There’s also Tasty—BuzzFeed’s Facebook-only cooking channel, which now has over 77 million followers. Tasty’s short instructional cooking videos are tailor-made for the social network and millennials—they’re short, concise and engaging. Now, while millennials are learning how to make guacamole onion rings or spinach artichoke mac ’n’ cheese, brands like Nabisco and Del Monte are promoting their products as ingredients within the demonstrations.

Lesson learned: As content experiences evolve, advertisers must become an integral part of the content consumption and avoid “disrupting” millennials’ media experience, on any channel. 

3. Seeing—and now hearing—is believing

Ah, the power of the spoken word. While many predict that radio advertising budgets will continue to fall, don’t count this age-old medium out just yet. According to Nielsen, radio reaches around 92% of millennials—an even larger audience than social media. And with the surge in Internet radio and podcasts in recent years, the ol’ speaker box has become both mobile and millennial-friendly.

Luckily for brands, most modern radio also has sophisticated technology on its side: GPS. Geo-targeting and geo-fencing are introducing advertisers to more and more opportunities to create personalized, in-the-moment experiences that can reach consumers closer to points of purchase, and if all goes right, drive them into stores.

Lesson learned: Radio has graduated to the digital era, and with its wide reach to millennial consumers—and a little help from location-based services—brands can use it as a secret weapon for rising above the noise with more targeted and measurable efforts.

Millennials are a complex and complicated breed, but while they’re changing the rules and transforming the media experience to cater to their opinions and needs, they’re also introducing new ways for brands to reach them through traditional media.

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