Introduction: In Defense of the Millennial
I’m a copywriter. If you don’t know exactly what that is, don’t worry. My parents still ask me for clarification. As a copywriter, my career is built on knowing people. When I understand my audience, I can write to them in a way that helps companies to effectively market their brand. In short, I write advertisements. I’m the author of the commercials you skip, the banner ads you ignore, and the websites you skim through. It’s not the most noble way to use one’s pen, but fuck it. The money is good, and the work is fairly enjoyable.
I do a lot to learn about a given audience. I sit through presentations on strategic insights that reveal who these people are, where they’re from, and what they enjoy doing. I attend market research studies and listen to them as they talk about their everyday routine. I read thorough reports that show me exactly what websites they visit and the average amount of time that they spend on said website. With all of this information, I can bend my writing in order to craft messages that speak directly to them. I’m a writing chameleon. Or a writing con-artist. Pick your poison.
While I’m used to this research-and-write routine, it was an odd sensation to be debriefed on a demographic that I belong to. Millennials. During one particular meeting, my team had to brainstorm ways that our brand could reach today’s young adults. Born roughly around 1980–1995, these individuals are highly coveted consumers. After all, can you imagine how successful your company would be if it earned the loyalty of the world’s largest living generation? Some brands are already reaping the benefits of connecting to Generation Y. Apple. Nike. Google. Behind each of these brands, you’ll find a well-executed advertising campaign.
As my Strategy Team clicked through PowerPoint slides, I was surprised to see words in their presentation that made me simultaneously cringe and nod. Entitled. Click! Instant gratification. Click! Selfies. Click! Did these terms really define the depth of our character? This presentation was supposed to help people understand us, but I found that most of their descriptions barely scratched the surface. With every insight they presented, part of me felt the urge to provide a rebuttal that began with, “Yes, that’s true, but…”
At some point in the meeting, the topic of bi-annual advertising campaigns came up. My team thought of events that we could leverage in order to develop #relevant marketing launches. The topic of daylight savings came up, and one of the senior-level strategists discussed the habit of checking your smoke detector. She said it was a standard custom that everyone practices during daylight savings.
“I never check my smoke detector,” another colleague said, “I usually unplug it.” She was a year older than me.
The strategist smiled and shook her head, “Oh, you Millennials.”
My colleague turning off her smoke detector probably had less to do with her being a Millennial and more to do with her living in a cramped New York City apartment that can gather a room full of smoke after toasting a slice of bread. And while that scenario is commonly faced by urbanites within my age group, it does not correlate with Generation Y at large. There are Millennials who do not live in cramped apartments. There are Millennials who live outside of New York City. There are Millennials who check their smoke detectors.
I know my co-worker hardly meant the offense, but it’s disheartening to find yourself subject to a generalization. You’d think a Millennial would be used to it by now — between the click-bait articles proclaiming “5 Reasons Why Millennials Are the Worst” and the never-ending list of books that guide employers on managing their unruly Gen-Y hires. My personal favorites include Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, The Narcissism Epidemic, and Generation Me.
At this point, “Millennial” has become a hackneyed phrase, similar to the word “hipster.” Both terms had genuine etymologies, but people have reduced them to blanket terms that seem to be synonymous with the less colloquial phrase of “young dumbass.”
I wonder how a room full of Boomers and Gen X’ers would have handled this level of scrutiny. Every generation is deemed young and dumb by its predecessors, but imagine growing up during a time when you’re bombarded by that opinion. How would it feel to be surrounded by books, articles, think pieces, blogs, posts, tweets, and YouTube comments that pick apart your habits and idiosyncrasies? No less at an age in which you’re just beginning to know yourself.
My angsty reaction to PowerPoint presentations and smoke detectors made me question that very thought. Did I know myself? My understanding of Millennials seemed so far departed from my Strategy Team’s view of Generation Y. From my perspective, there was more to us than entitled selfie-takers seeking instant-gratification. For starters, our college-education rates are higher than that of any other age group. We made shit work even though most of us entered a post-recession economy with massive student debt. Not to mention the fact that we played an integral role in electing the nation’s first African American president.
No generation can be boiled down to a few buzzwords. The largest living generation is no exception. We are full of stories that come in different shades, ethnicities, genders, and creeds. Although common characteristics and trends are inevitable when analyzing a demographic, we must remember that context is paramount. I plan to defend that point in the most millennial-esque way possible, and that is, by writing about myself.
Reader, I’m not writing to convince you that all Gen-Y stereotypes are incorrect and that we aren’t assholes. It’s true — we’re assholes. But, I am writing to provide you some background as to why we’re assholes. Not through the lens of a click-bait article or a celebrity tell-all, but through ordinary and mundane experiences in which the most significant lessons are often found. That is why I write. I want everyone to understand this big, beautiful, and complex generation. My hope is that, in doing so, I’ll be able to understand it — and myself — a little better as well.