Gen Ys: Peter Pans Who Refuse To Grow Up (& Why It’s Bad News For Marketers)

Gen Ys: Peter Pans Who Refuse To Grow Up (& Why It’s Bad News For Marketers)

Next in their series of marketing to Gen Ys, B&T’s regular guest posters, Brian Mitchell (PhD) and Evan Mitchell, the directors of Love & Wine and founders of Gen Y brand specialists HOW&Y (,argue the Millennials don’t want to grow up and it’s bad news for business…

For most of human history the concept of adolescence didn’t even exist. So in the grand scheme of things, Gen Y is very much an aberration.

From prehistoric times through to the “Greatest Generation”, a period of angst-ridden self-exploration just didn’t fit with reality.

Responsibilities were forced onto young shoulders barely out of childhood – whether slaughtering mastodons to feed the tribe, or surviving two World Wars, and providing for a family in the Great Depression in between.

It’s only with (relative) peace and prosperity that youthful self-indulgence can be seriously indulged.

Social psychologists observed this transitional state with Boomers and Gen X. They termed it “youth”. A brief period – typically dominated by further study and some traipsing around ashrams – before donning the mantles of maturity and responsibility.

With Millennials, however, what started as a Gap Year has extended well beyond a decade. Every analysis of this generation finds one enduring consistency – they stay younger for longer – calling for the coining of terms like “kidult”, “adultlescent” and “rejuvenile.”

How could such a significant generational, psychological change NOT have ramifications for business? And for certain categories distinctly more than others.

While consulting to the wine industry, addressing the disconnect between Gen Y and wine, we constantly encountered the laisse faire and extremely dangerous attitude – “their tastes will eventually just grow into wine.” Because that’s what had always happened with previous generations. Well, those who were saying it are saying it still, and watching while those tastes don’t mature. And the greater risk isn’t even that waiting game, though that’s fraught enough with lost sales by the day, week, month and year. The greater risk is, stuck in a perpetual palate-adolescence, whether a majority of those consumers will ever mature, or be lost to wine forever.

Wine is not unique here, nor uniquely vulnerable.

A whole swathe of service providers – from every stamp of insurance through to banking and financial advice and planning – have long been able to rely on the inevitable onset of maturity and responsibility. And with it, appreciation of the assurance and peace of mind that comes from looking ahead.

To continue the same assumption for Gen Y would be risky to say the least. This generation chooses to stay longer in the present.

Even worse, for those selling protection and soundness of mind, a dominant characteristic of Gen Y is “omnipotentiality” – simply expressed as I can be/do anything. The implications of this generational mindset can be perilous. The sense of rose-tinted, high-flying optimism it engenders, flies in the face of traditional, cautionary advertising themes.

“There-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I” brand messages just don’t cut it.

This presents a two-fold problem. These seemingly logical likely consumers may not even perceive the relevance of such protection to themselves. And worse, if the message that attempts to persuade them strikes the wrong chord, it’ll serve to alienate them instead. And with Gen Y this kind of instinctive rejection can damn a brand permanently.

Of course there’s a serious upside for those organisations who can thread the needle with this demographic. Getting the message and delivery right means stealing a huge march on competitors, both in terms of immediate incremental business, and the opportunity to maintain these consumers within the brand for other products or services.

Peter Pan didn’t want to grow up until it was too late. With this Peter Pan generation, it pays to get the balance right between opportunity and strategy – or suffer the same fate.


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