Why A Lot Of Your Advertising Messages Don’t Resonate With Millennials

Why A Lot Of Your Advertising Messages Don’t Resonate With Millennials

In their latest instalment of marketing to Millennials, B&T’s resident experts, Brian Mitchell PhD and Evan Mitchell, Co-founders of Gen Y brand strategy specialists HOW&Y (howandy.net), are back with their latest column. This time they argue it’s not necessarily the Ys who are the difficult ones, rather it could be misplaced marketing messages that could be to blame…

B&T Magazine
Posted by B&T Magazine

Where do the ducks in Central Park go in wintertime? Fans of J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye would recall his autobiographical hero Holden Caulfield’s obsession with these pesky paddlers and their future. The answer was pretty obvious – somewhere warmer.

In Holden’s feverish imagination however it was as likely they disappeared into the ether – imaginary ducks.

Imaginary sales – the sales we anticipate but don’t get – are a bit like those disappearing waterfowl.

In the midst of campaign planning – there they are, larger than life, you could reach out and touch them! But come execution, and (too often) it’s – where are they?

Is there a purgatory somewhere for lost sales? Where they hang around waiting for another chance? If so, it must be a helluva space, to fit them all in.

There are a myriad of lost sales and many reasons for their fate. It’s not all down to sales forces either. Marketing is also a culprit. They’re in the frame for the ones that were never going to happen, despite expectations. The result of mismatch between marketing message and audience responsiveness. This unhappy scenario is one bound to increase, as Gen Y numbers increase. Particularly where advertising messages are most prevalent and expensive – consumer brands.

And Gen Y numbers will of course increase, for some time yet. Which means more and more brand messages in the future will strike out with this huge and fractious demographic.

Failures come in two types:

  • messages that pass under the radar, not registering at all, and
  • messages which register, but actually serve to alienate Gen Y.

Service brands are regular candidates for the first type.

Service providers, from insurance to banking to health funds, rely heavily on peace-of-mind motives. (Throw in governments and their preventative health programs as well.) Cautionary “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I” messages worked fine with Gen X and Boomers, when they were of Gen Y age. But the new generation matures in a different mindset. Rather than look ahead, they prefer to loiter in the present. “They stay younger for longer” as the saying goes. Traditional messages that resonated with earlier generations, don’t register a blip on the Millennial attention meter. That’s the bad news. The good news is at least they don’t do harm to the brand (if you ignore material expenses, overheads, lost opportunity costs and so on).

Which can’t be said for the second problem type – brand messages which inadvertently piss off Gen Y.

These are often consumer product brands, though not exclusively. They come in two varieties – those which fail the authenticity test, and those pushing messages that contravene Gen Y views of itself.

Authenticity, or the perceived lack of it, is a graveyard for brands. When it comes to their own mores Gen Y has a BS meter that’s super developed. And woe betide a brand that tries and fails. This lot are as generous as the Spanish Inquisition in dealing with transgressors.

On the issue of “improper” brand messages, some advertising themes have resiliently stood the test of time. In an earlier article we referred to the Gillette slogan “the best a man can get” straddling three decades. But that was before Gen Y. This generation is quite capable of raining on any track record.

If you don’t get it, they don’t want it. And let’s face it, with brand messages you put it all out there. A spectacular example is the traditional, sanctified, sterilised image of motherhood so common in personal care categories – which is guaranteed to set an edgy Gen Y female’s teeth gnashing.

All these ways to lose sales with the strangest generation in history. Unlike Holden’s ducks though, at least we know where they went. The trick now is to get them back.