Why I Hate Millennial Ads
Millennials represent the largest group of consumers worldwide. So, it only makes sense that they’re the most studied and mapped out audience in advertising today. However, it seems that advertising’s obsession with this group has had the adverse effect, judging by the major backlash certain ads have had recently and the growing occurrences of other brands calling out their counterparts on creating “generic millennial ads” that fail to serve any real purpose. Also, more than 80% of millennials have declared that they hate ads, lots of us have ad blockers and have become impervious to brands constantly trying to sell us something.
Advertising has been on a great quest for personalisation since the discovery of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) during the “Golden Age” in the early 1900s. Although still relevant, the USP now lies less in the product’s composition, since the focus is now the consumer. This means that the traditional hard sell isn’t what’s going to get you that sale; instead it’s how well you know your customer and the kind of content that adds value to their lives. For the most part, brands have done their research and nailed the facts, figures and behaviours associated with millennial audiences, but it’s the execution part that’s been a bit tricky — audiences have accused brands of being dogmatic, predictable and even offensive in their approach to issues of diversity, social responsibility and the environment.
One recent ad that does a great job of reviving really old stereotypes and evoking anger and ridicule from millennial audiences depicts people of colour being paraded mindlessly under the guise of being “proudly South African”. The issue here isn’t being proudly South African, but rather this particular brand’s understanding and portrayal of it. If anything, it makes the audience question the brand’s integrity and whether minority and previously disadvantaged groups are actually a part of the decision making process within that company. Cultural biases, stereotypes and misrepresentation of entire groups of people are not humorous and it’s no longer acceptable for brands to think they can get away with this type of advertising.
How can brands create ads that audiences can relate to, then? Well, I’d say the best way to show that you understand an audience is to hone in on the individual experience. Giving a microscopic view of an individual’s triumphs, struggles, successes, failures and even quirks makes for a more relatable advert. Which makes sense, if you think about it, since it is individuals that make up the group and even though they may consider their experiences separate and different, there’s always a common thread. For example, Nike’s Dream series, featuring prominent sportsmen and women who have turned the word ‘crazy' on its head with their very existence. The success of these and other ads that have taken the notion of trailblazing and the breaking of the proverbial glass ceiling, which is so often associated with the millennial demographic, lies, in part, in the fact that they zone in on the individual.
Our yearning for individual stories may be a product of sheer self-importance, or the unarticulated loneliness that comes as a byproduct of having to form and maintain most of our relationships through the glass screens of our phones. Nevertheless, consumers aren’t happy with one size fits all narrations of groups — these only come across as unimpressive caricatures since no two people feel that they share the exact same kinks and mannerisms. If anything, generalisations come off as patronising and archaic, no matter how well intended.
The impressive repertoire of research advertisers have put together has described the millennial demographic as restless, impatient, revolutionary, social, creative, empowered etc. and these aren’t untrue. If anything, we’re okay with being revolutionary and, for the most part, we understand why we’d be labeled restless, but we also understand that our revolutions are defined, packaged and sold back to us by brands who think they know us, yet reduce who we are to word clouds, stock images and neon-painted, dour faces. It all comes across so forced and superficial.
So, all that research, budget and big ideas are going to be a bit of a waste, until more brands wake up to the fact that being “revolutionary” — caring about the environment and seeking healthier, more sustainable methods and practices — aren’t just fun things we do, they’re ways to survive and solve problems we didn’t create. Until advertising looks at the very minor details and aims to bring real value, create and join real conversations without being patronising or depicting “us” as this ridiculous monolith; it will continue to be the stuff of angry Twitter rants and office jokes.
Can brands successfully create this authentic material without actually having one of every kind of “us” sitting at their decision making tables? Well, I’ll leave that for you to decide.