WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US. This famous quote from Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip is a beauty for its timeless political irony. But for me, it also summarizes the plethora of blogs and articles the media continue to belch up to pin down those difficult to connect with and communicate to Millennials.
WE HAVE MET THE MILLENNIALS AND THEY ARE US. Maybe the problem with understanding the Millennial generation is with how the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations are interpreting who they are, what they want, and how to make them do what we want them to do. As a recent article in the Guardian points out, it’s become almost adversarial.
“I think the boundaries end up getting drawn to some extent by the media, and the extent to which people accept them or not varies by generation,” Tom DiPrete, sociology professor at Columbia University says. “I would be somewhat skeptical that they can be documented rigorously.”
Baby Boomers are tireless in trying to lump Millennials together in one big marketing matzo. According to the avalanche of commandments in the articles and posts that proliferate online, Millennials are:
- ENTITLED. We all had that bone when we were young. But maybe it’s also that every Apple store is manned by Millennials helping Baby Boomers turn their devices on. And for a generation that came of age during the calamity of 9/11, 14 years of war, a financial system that got gamed, high unemployment while being saddled with impossible debt and the Tea Party…maybe it’s not that they feel entitled. Maybe it’s that they see us as incompetent.
- LOUSY WRITERS. Sure there might be less knowledge of a “formal writing structure for business,” but since when was that great writing? And by the way, they have also added a bunch of cool new words to the dictionary.
- IMPATIENT. That’s what being young is about. But think how patient they are while helping a frantic Baby Boomer turn their devices on.
- NOT BIG AT NETWORKING. Isn’t that what Tinder and Grindr are for?
- NOT GIVING MONEY TO UNETHICAL CORPORATIONS. There will always be corporations with the consciousness of Ann Coulter. But voting with your cash is more effective than voting at the polling place. There’s no electoral college.
- NOT WANTING TO WORK IN JOBS THEY HATE. No one does. Even John Boehner had enough.
- CONCERNED ABOUT LIFE/WORK BALANCE. Except if they work at Amazon.
- KNOW-IT ALLS. Again, a symptom of youth. Baby Boomers had that in spades. And the next time I go into an Apple store to have one of my devices turned on, I want a know-it-all to do it.
- SKEPTICAL OF ADVERTISING. Admitting to trusting advertising is like OJ saying he did it.
- CONSUMING MEDIA DIFFERENTLY. Duh.
THEY’RE NOT WATCHING TV! THEY’RE ALL ON SOCIAL!
They sure like Game of Thrones. They still watch the Super Bowl. And they have new late night friends in Jimmy Fallon and Trevor Noah. I wish, when I was their age, that I had the option of skipping the latest toe fungus spot just by fast forwarding.
And as far as being obsessively all-things-social, investment firm Battery Ventures recently published a survey that contradicts this assumption. It seems that the social media obsessed twentysomethings aren’t that obsessed.
54 percent don’t have a Snapchat; 41 percent are not on Pinterest; 39 percent are not on Twitter or Instagram; 27 percent use their Facebook account once a week. And even that breaks down to two waves of Millennials: 20-25 year olds have more social media accounts, 26-35 year olds have less. So much for the matzo.
LET’S TAKE A TIME OUT.
What has changed is the increase in the number of pipes to reach Millennials and the number of screens they can watch. That’s true of us all. And that’s increased the number of ways we can all avoid being reached. Companies are just going to have to do it better. Advertising communications is the floor-show of Capitalism, and our brutal form of Big C capitalism can’t let any of us watch the show without paying a cover charge. Sometimes I sense corporate frustration with this generation because they have so many ways to ignore The Man. Not to mention that after paying the cover and being shown a horrible show, they now have the power to tell the rest of the world not to come. And boy, does that upset share-holder-value.
START TELLING BETTER STORIES. GET EXCITED BY ALL THE WAYS YOU CAN SHARE THEM.
Human beings respond to stories. It’s how they make sense of their lives. So tell good ones. Read their world. Tell them stories that have empathy with what they are going through. Make the story something grander than your product, just like you should make your company something more compelling than what you make. Every artist, in every art form, is thrilled by the new ways they can share their art. Turn your company into an artist. Make your product art.
THEY LOVE TO LAUGH! THEY ALSO LOVE TO CRY!
One of the other “revelations” about Millennials is: They like humor! Guess what? We all do. Ever since the first cave man slipped on a banana peel while trying to spear a Woolly Mammoth, we love to laugh. But humor is a three-headed Kraken: Droll. Funny. Hilarious.
Droll is The Most Interesting Man in the World. Funny is GEICO. Hilarious is the Adobe “Click, Baby, Click” Spot. Caution: Beware of hilarious unless you can do it this well, with a strategy this tight, and allow the story to unfold before unleashing the logo.
Walt Disney once said that it was easy to make people laugh at Mickey, but that didn’t earn animation respect. He said that for animation to be respected as an art form, it had to make them cry. And so he spent the next three years making Snow White. And at the premiere, he made them cry all the way to the after party.
When advertising is art, it makes you feel immensely about something you didn’t think much about before. So, although beer advertising veers to funny, guess what the most loved spot of the 2015 Super Bowl was? That’s right. A lost puppy.
WORRY LESS ABOUT HOW TO REACH THEM. WORRY MORE ABOUT WHAT TO REACH THEM WITH.
The challenge to being remembered is – to quote Talking Heads – the same as it ever was. We like to laugh. We like to cry. That’s it. When you understand how to construct great stories, when you allow your company to be human, when you realize that you are an invited guest in the living room of the Millennials entitled, skeptical brains, and you delight and amaze them, you’ll get invited back.
And when you embrace the fact that these new pipes can actually take your story to epic proportions, that’s when you’ll really reach Millennials.
And every generation before and after them.