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Best "Marketing to Millennials" tips I've seen yet

Posted by: Burth Helm on November 21, 2007

Ok, so being born in 1982, I count as a “millenial,” the much worried-over, gabbed-about generation that’s emerging in the work force today. I get a ton of ribbing about this in the office, especially when one of the oft-released news stories comes out saying we’re the most praise-needy, sensitive, and self-centered group ever (check out the recent 60 Minutes broadcast, for instance).

But I think this column by Carol Phillips, which lists the 10 things college students don’t know about marketing, gets a lot of things right. In particular, she points out the perils of marketing your product as “luxury.” College students and young people think of themselves as “poor” no matter what they make, and despite the fact that they have an iPod, an iPhone, and $180 jeans. They’ll still pay a premium, but they’ll be turned off if you’re marketing yourself as ritzy.

Reader Comments


November 22, 2007 2:59 PM

Actually, there are a lot of things this article gets very wrong. Millennials know full well that there are far more older people then there are of them and they're aware of this because of the baby boomer retirees for who they're constantly told they'll have to pay Social Security benefits. They don't believe that any ad they like is intended for them, but merely that they can use it and it would be beneficial for them.

While they might have the latest sneakers, iPods, computers and cell phones, they know full well that either mom and dad paid for them and they'd never be able to buy it on their own, or that in buying all those nice things they shelled out a good 70% or 80% of their cash piles. They realize that if you didn't buy it or you spent so much money on it that you now have to cut corners for a while to make up for the cash loss, you're not rich. This is why they see themselves as poor. Same goes for college kids who live with their parents and recent graduates who still live at their parental home. If they can't afford to pay their way through life, they call it like it is.

Everyone knows that Facebook is an ad-supported company and so is MySpace, but they do view it as a sort of virtual bar or pub. They're so used to the banner ads and product placements in every facet of their daily lives that they just filter it out and focus on the communication rather then the purpose and mission of the site. Should the site become too corporate, they'll abandon it for something less obnoxious in its advertising. To imply that they're clueless to the fact that Facebook or MySpace exists as an effort to make money is downright insulting. But then again, Phillips seems to have set out to make college students sound like complete ignoramuses.

Yes, the millenials know that product placements are paid. This is another one of those things that sound rather insulting. They know that it happens in TV, movies and blogs and they know it's just another way to advertise.

They also know that ads aren't allowed to lie, but they do know that lying ads and false claims slip by and have to be brought to court to be disputed or distort the truth just enough to be factually accurate yet coming off with a different claim. This is why they're skeptical. They don't put much stock in enforcement and compliance while well aware of the laws.

Asking millenials about their favorite brands to them sounds like asking to which brands they're emotionally attached. Ask them where they go for dinner, coffee, shopping or what brands they wear and they'll give you the names of all the brands you want to know without a pause. In marketing, you have to know how to ask and what to ask, not just fire away with the first iteration of a question that came to your mind.

See, this is why I gave up on Ad Age. They can be very condescending and create articles ridden with inaccuracies and assumptions clearly borrowed from semi-clueless secondhand sources. And yes, if inquiring minds want to know, I'm a millenial (post college and gainfully employed) and my degree is in marketing so as you can imagine, I've been there, done that and analyzed surveys and focus group studies and have a firsthand view of what the millenial market is really like.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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