The New Wrongs-Of-Passage When Advertising To The Ys

The New Wrongs-Of-Passage When Advertising To The Ys
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In this guest post, Brian Mitchell and Evan Mitchell, co-founders of Gen Y brand specialists HOW&Y, show how brands can avoid the cliches and stereotypes when marking to the Millennials…

The coming-of-age tale is culturally compelling. Rites-of-passage narratives are ubiquitous because they have an enduring and universal appeal. Through the ages these stories have fuelled comedies and tragedies, romances, poetry and novels and on through movies, songs and… ads.

Youth maturing into their cultural inheritance is a theme that can be powerfully harnessed by advertising – especially with products and services that individuals graduate or grow into, on reaching the stage of life in which they put away childish things.

Then there’s how not to do it.

When we first saw this ad we were convinced it must be a piss-take. We waited and waited (at least, it felt like longer than fifteen seconds). But at the end, instead of a joke punch-line, there it was in all its self-seriousness, the campaign tag-line. And that’s what makes it even more hilarious.

This is an ad, designed to appeal to and subsequently sell to Millennials, that is staggering in its low esteem for its target market. Paraphrasing it, the message essentially runs – you’ve acquired the awesome connoisseur’s tastes to have gone beyond instant noodles, you’ve had at least one adolescent crush and break up, and you’ve reached such dizzying heights of personal emancipation that you can very nearly do your laundry all by yourself. Welcome to “the generation going places.”

One can imagine the same campaign concept fashioned for an earlier generation (cue sound of scratchy 1940’s wireless) – “you’ve left school at fourteen to help support the folks, weathered the back end of a Depression, survived a World War, got by with no labour-saving devices, started a family, and you’ re ready to make your mark… you’re the generation going places!”

What this ad has in fact established is a new extreme pole of Millennial marketing messaging – the diametric opposite of the hitherto most common Gen Y pitch. That has been the brand/life message of living the lie, feeding Gen Y’s omnipotentiality delusion, treating the confected world of image-curation as if it’s real. Every night is an endless dance party, every morning an inspiring sunrise, no life is debased by endless hours immersed in gaming or social media, phones connect you to your deeply loved coterie of variously-coloured-and-gender-fluid friends, you’re high on life. It’s captured beautifully here, and btw, this one is a parody.

The new extreme countering this, established by our car manufacturer, could perhaps be best described as the soft bigotry of low expectations. It’s as if the ad is saying to Millennials, “we know you’re useless, but you don’t realise how useless, so we’re going to bundle up all the evidence of your uselessness and pitch it back to you as, like, lifestyle, and then sell you a car on the back of that.”

On a more serious note – ad messages matter. They saturate social perceptions. They’re woven into the pop-cultural fabric. They influence how we think of ourselves, and what we think of others. Ads like this beg the question – what can be expected of a generation of which so little is asked?

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