Could everyone please shut up about millennials?
They're not exotic creatures from the lost continent of Atlantis, for the love of
money mobile wallets. They're just young adults.
In spite of ongoing efforts to lionize them, they're not much different from you and mewhen we were the same age.
They want cool jobs, big paychecks, time to party, opportunities to play as hard as they work.
Big deal. Who didn't?
Rip the cell phones out of their hands and they're basically interchangeable with Standard Model Inexperienced People from the two preceding generations.
And our obsession to collectively elevate them to the Keepers of All Marketing Insight is wearing thin.
So. Many. Studies.
On any given day, I receive multiple millennial-focused research reports.
Millennials, in case you've been fortunate enough to avoid the chatter up to this point, are roughly defined as those born from 1980 to 2000.
There are a lot of them, 83.1 million — more than a quarter of the US population, according to new data from the US Census Bureau. Their size exceeds that of the 75.4 million baby boomers, the last generation we were forced to hear about ad nauseam until they started retiring and stopped researching themselves.
- Want loyalty points for engaging with brands
- Want to be leaders and empower other people
- Don't like to call customer service and are unforgiving of bad service
And then there are the generalized proclamations:
“Millennials have drastically different career aspirations, attitudes about work, and knowledge of technologies,” said Nigel Dessau, author of "Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack." (Really? Or have most everyone's attitudes about work, life and technologies morphed and evolved in recent years, especially under the realities of things like the Great Recession?)
"Millennials are less seduced by new technologies. Only 45 percent buy products when they first come out, compared to 49 percent of Gen X'ers (35 to 54 year olds)" (Seriously, how is that statistically significant? Wouldn't it be more meaningful to say almost half of all adults 18 to 54 are early adopters of new technologies?)
"Millennials are more diverse than the generations that preceded them, with 44.2 percent being part of a minority race or ethnic group (that is, a group other than non-Hispanic, single-race white)." (Sure. But the whole nation is more diverse than it was a generation or two ago. So what's the point?)
"Millennials are more open minded about investing in loyalty program memberships like Amazon Prime. About 75 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds and 77 percent of 25-34 year-olds saying they’d consider joining a fee-based rewards program, compare with 62 percent overall." (Is this anything intrinsic about millennials? Would deeper research show that 'people of any age who are setting up new households' are more likely to invest in fee-based loyalty programs because they're at a stage of life when they buy a lot of stuff?)
"Millennials are the generation most likely (44 percent more likely) to permanently disengage with brands if they receive high volumes of mass generic email communications." (I'd argue that this isn't a millennial trait, but a reflection of the fact that consumers are more willing to abandon a brand with which they have little history. Since millennials haven't been engaging with brands as long as Gen X or Boomers, it stands to reason they have less reason to be forgiving.)
Pull Back the Curtain
Millennials speak. Marketers listen.
It gives me a headache.
The whole thing reminds me of the 1979 movie Being There (which, yes, I was watching before these — gag — digital natives were ever born).
In the movie Peter Sellers plays a slow-witted gardener named Chance who is mistakenly assumed to be a member of the upper-class elite.
Soon his simpleminded pronouncements are perceived as profound insights.
This is how I feel about millennials.
I'm not suggesting that millennials are simpleminded — I reared five of them, all of whom are far brighter than me in specific areas.
But when it comes to life in general, I win.
Hell, take it one step further. They may be digital natives, but I was fighting with a dial-up modem and 286 Processor while they were sitting in their diapers on my lap.
Think me, think Prodigy — and I don't mean whiz kid, although I won't object if you want to make that association.
My generation is no stranger to connectivity.
We're All Guilty
And by doing so, I've tacitly endorsed half of that disturbing, ageist phenomenon that has become increasingly prevalent in advertising and marketing — the one that implies young people are cool, really old people are funny and all the rest of us are the human equivalent of flyover states.
Think I'm exaggerating? Nexcare Brand from St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M recently announced "a unique, fully-integrated brand campaign developed specifically to target millennials by leveraging an 87-year old stuntwoman who is challenged to put herself and the bandages to the test."
We're not talking about a campaign that showcases someone like Eleanor 'Nanny' Cunningham, who went skydiving last year for her 100th birthday. No, that wouldn't be funny because it's based in reality.
Instead, we're talking about a marketing campaign that shows, who I assume is, a lovely older actress. She pretends to do a bunch of Wild 'n Crazy things, but isn't really doing any of them.
Ha ha ha! Old people are such a hoot! That Nana! Thinking she could actually compete with a twentysomething? What will she do next?
Please. Where are our manners? Moreover, what's happened to our common sense?
I'll Shut Up Now
My 25-year-old has more in common with someone from Generation X than a young millennial still drinking her way through college.
And people my age invented a lot of the technologies that millennials had the fortune to grow up with — so don't define tech competence by the color of someone's hair.
(Wait. How old are "people my age," you ask? I'll tell you the same thing British Labor leadership contender Liz Kendall said when she was asked her weight — and it's not pretty. So let's move on.)
The point is that I've always regarded chronological age as a meaningless metric, far less unifying than occupation, hobbies, socio-economic status or any one of dozens of possible demographic variables.
You're not as old as you feel, but you are as old as you think — and do. And plenty of people of any age are "incredibly sophisticated, technology wise, immune to most traditional marketing and sales pitches."
In an age of big data and sophisticated analytical tools, isn't it time we stop painting whole segments of the population with huge, blurry brushes based on birth year?
“Every generation has specific qualities that make them uniquely valuable workers,” said Fortune 500 Talent Management Executive Curtis Odom. “The secret to being indispensable is to cultivate these qualities and integrate them all in your skillset, no matter how old (or young) you are."
So everybody calm down.
Stop worrying about millennials and what they like for breakfast. Measure what matters — which certainly isn't age. And you know why I can say that with certainty? Because I lie about mine all the time.
Title image by Asa Aarons Smith.