Marketing to Millennials

How traditional marketing practices can be coupled with new to engage with Generation Y

Pandering to a Trend

Another article with advice on how to sell to millennial? This illusory group of 15 to 30 somethings that have more money than sense and what sense we do have is often entitled. That last sentence was intended to be ironic. Millennials are no more entitled than any other generation that came before us. We want the same things, the issue is that the world seems to think wanting what we were brought up to expect is a bad thing.

I watch anime. That may not seem relevant but I do have a point. One of the cartoons I watch is called One Piece. If you haven’t heard of it, you should really go look it up. From the sheer length of the series, it has spawned as much merchandise in Japan and Asia as Star Wars has here in the west. My point about this is the parable of the characters in the show and the world of marketing to my peers. The characters are pirates. In the One Piece, they and their peers are collectively labeled as The Worst Generations by the powers that be. The characters wield influence with the youth of the world, marketing the pirate life, sailing the world disrupting order. They don’t want to be coddled. They want freedom. I think this is a perfect allegory for millennials. This aspect of One Piece may actually be the key to why it is so popular too. The fact that the young characters are called The Worst Generation, with the powers that be placing blame at their feet without the self-realization that they are the product of the world created by those that came before.

Millennials are The Worst Generation. We are blamed for our attention spans, obsession with apps, and lack of depth however this too is a repeat of history. The dot com boom of the late 90s is perfectly repeated in the rise of the app industry. Entitlement be damned. We just want what our parents had. We are easy to reach. You could probably do more with a 15 second Instagram spot showing your product being used than a 7 minute mini-movie showing beautiful 20 something pretending to enjoy your product. If all else fails, do some actual market research and reach reach out. The digital age is a time of engagement. There is plenty of ways to collect data now, it just requires engaging with the audience you want build a sales relationship with.

Be Authentic

Selling the idea that a product will actually make lives longer, healthier or just easier in some way, is still the best strategy when marketing to millennials. When Coca-Cola ran the “I want to buy the world a coke” ad in 1971, it was praised for its hopeful, universal appeal, especially amongst young people. With everything that was going on in the world, Vietnam, IRA bombings in the UK, economic crisis in the US, Intel releasing its microprocessor, and Jim Morrison is found dead in a bath tub in Paris; the idea that sharing a coke with a neighbour was a welcome one. Fast forward to 2017 and message has mutated by a competitor. They get a pretty person, famous for nothing in particular, patronize a serious causes so you can sell a brand of caffeinated sugar.

I get the idea. Capture the essence of that advertisement that was so successful in 1971 but bring it into a modern day setting. Newsflash, Coke already did that they they released containers with peoples names on them. Linking your product with protest culture that is essentially about the death of our peers by a corrupt institution will not enamour us to your brand. You know what doesn’t work? The message buy our shit because it will solve your problems. It is patronising and cynical. The message in 1971 was buy our shit and share it with someone. It brings people together. It makes me want to go out and buy a coke just so I can give it to a friend, sit on a curb and chat with them for a while. Maybe while we are chatting we can talk about Vietnam, or Jim Morrison, or the microprocessor. Who knows, maybe we can even come up with some actions we can take during that conversation to make the world a better place. In 1971, Buy the World a Coke along with the named bottles and can campaign was about community.

In 2017, Pepsi used the slogan Be Bold in the afore mentioned protest advert. This is a call to action but one that is so generic it could have been pulled from a meme generator of inspirational quotes. Be Bold does not actually tell me to buy a Pepsi. What is bold about buying a sugary beverage. Unless you mean the empty calories? The point I am trying to make is that the message of that ad campaign did not have a call to action that had any actionable task. The advert was a failure and everything a brand should avoid if they want to reach anyone, never mind Millennials.


With the advent of the internet and social media it has never been easier to reach your audience. Brands that are successful on social media build up a relationship with their customers. The days of passive advertising are over. Look at the popularity of Youtube, where influencers engage with their audience in the comments and make videos that are requested by fans. They tell stories and answer questions. They open a small part of their lives. They also open products. That isn’t to say that they won’t also make a paid product video too. Advertising revenue is down across the site, however this may be temporary, it doesn’t mean you can’t turn the advertising ec0nomy to your advantage. Reach out, see if you can find budget to sponsor a Youtube video. Get involved in a community. Build brand loyalty.

A good social media team can go a long way too. A perfect recent example of this came from my own life. I had discovered a potential fraudulent transaction with my credit card. Calling the bank via the number they provide for reporting fraud left me at an automated message that their mailbox was full and I should call again the next business day. Completely unacceptable. I took to Twitter, mentioning the bank in the tweet. Their social media team contacted me within 10 minutes. Calling me directly, they resolved the issue within 20 minutes of the initial tweet. I went from angry to marvelling at the banks ingenuity. Their traditional communication lines had failed, but they kept a customer thanks to their new, social media team.

Make Sales Intuitive

I use my phone for everything these days. Just like the personal computer in the 90s, mobile has become the go to hardware for consuming media across the world. It is an idea straight out of Star Trek. Think of something you need & announce to the ether “Computer, select telemetry to Walmart 4. On Screen” and the route you need to take will appear in front of you. I am no James T. Kirk and Siri is not the Enterprise but my cell phone sure makes it easier to pretend I am. Oculus Rift is the closest we have gotten to a Holo-Deck and Siri is the closest we have gotten to carrying Majel Barret-Roddenbery in our pockets. Before buying stuff went digital in the 90s, there was a convenience store in every neighbourhood and the buying experience was pretty universal. You walked into a store and if you tried to walk out with something then someone would inform you that you are required to pay. It was all conducted in a public forum and easy to understand. Now that I use an extremely personal device for purchasing items, I guard it closer to my person than my inner most thoughts (thanks twitter); the buying process has become less intuitive. I know not every company can be Amazon, comparative testing the colour of a single button for weeks on end but you can make the buying experience intuitive. If I am not a member of your particular website and I want to buy something, don’t make me sign up. Do that after I have completed my purchase. Incentivize me with lower rates, free shipping or just tracking on the item I have just bought. Having to jump through hoops before I order something can be the reason I decide I don’t actually need the product you are selling.

Like I said at the start of the article, millennial’s are no different than our parents. We want to feel like we contribute to something sure, but then again who doesn’t. When marketing to us, just be true to your brand and stop pandering. You won’t find us as illusive as we have been made out t0 be.