Millenials, We are your friends

Allow me to share with you a quote I read recently in Variety Magazine. It’s part of a larger comment, but it sums up the author’s sentiment quite powerfully and succinctly: “The film is able to speak to the harsh realities of an underrepresented community.”

I’ll let you take a wild guess as to which film—released barely two months ago to the day—and which underrepresented community’s valiant fight against the unendingly harsh realities of life this quote refers to. (Hint: it’s not the one you thinking of). Ok, go…

Were you able to guess “We Are Your Friends,” starring the heartthrob-ish Zac Efron? It’s highly unlikely.

It’s even less likely that anyone would have correctly guessed that the said “underrepresented community” was actually Millennials.

Yes, “We Are Your Friends” purports to be and has actively been presented as the Millennial generation’s “Saturday Night Fever” (with looser fitting clothing).

In case you’re unfamiliar with the plot, this quote will give you an idea of the central starting premise: “Cole (played by the authentically Millennial Efron) is an aspiring DJ who spends his days scheming with his childhood friends and his nights working on the one track (a hard-hitting and hypnotic electro-dance track obviously) that will set the world on fire.”

Right. Surely this can only beg two fundamental questions.

One: who greenlit this? Two: do we really know ANYTHING about Millennials?

They have, without a doubt, been the most obsessively coveted and marketed-to demographic in all of the world, haven’t they? Indeed, Millennials significantly outnumber both GenXers and Baby Boomers, and now—it can persuasively be argued—they represent the biggest demographic block in the United States. They are the new normal.

As marketers, we think we have them all figured out. In fact, many brands are fearlessly letting Millennials’ reported tastes drive their entire innovation strategies and plans. Advertisers pay ultra-premium prices to reach their fickle ears. And it’s not hard to understand why.

Everywhere you look, there they are: hordes of people born between 1980 and 1995. They’re drinking energy drinks, eating organic apples, and going to Soul Cycle. They’re seamlessly ordering everything (and I mean everything) online. They’re working for banks as well as non-profits and cruising around on jaunty bikes instead of cars. As the dreaded 4-0 fast approaches, they’re now thinking again about buying cute houses (but many still live at home with their parents) while trying to figure out how to pay for their student loans. They’re buying lots of hissy Jack White AND Taylor Swift vinyl records and some, Hollywood will tell you, are working on the one track that will set the world on fire (or fi-yah, as it were).

However, we also now know that the prevailing notions about many (but not all) Millennials, their wants, needs, and dreams have often been proven rather spectacularly wrong: indeed some are not really very generous, others don’t particularly care about changing the world, and still more aren’t all that bothered to do everything in their power to preserve the environment (Google “Everything we know about Millennials is wrong” for pages and pages more on this topic)

So what are we to do? Do we as marketers do away with the reams of Pew and Mintel data then?

No, we do not. That stuff is usually terrifically useful as reference. What we do need to do, however, is get rid of the idea and the word, generations.

The whole notion of a generation worked well in the 60s and70s because most people back then did arguably adhere to specific educational and professional paths. These groups ultimately aspired to and defined success in much the same stratified socio-economic ways that made them an easy group to categorize. This consistency likely began today’s marketing trend that defines a generation first and seeks out the data to support it later.

But now, generational distinctions are becoming increasingly non-existent. We have technology in part to thank for that.

Information about products, services, technology, travel, music, and more radiates out in a completely free manner, and this influences and drives behaviors for all age groups simultaneously. There are no more generational silos. There are no more generations at all, really.

And therein lies is an important consideration for marketers as we are currently seeing yet another shift to Gen Z, AKA the Fully Digital/’I’d rather text than talk if you don’t mind’/Snapchat Generation.

Disney-owned ABC Family, for example, a very successful cable channel by all accounts, recently underwent a total rebranding and will now be known as Freeform. This initiative was driven by a desire to attract the tween/teen/young adult audience (which it calls becomers), and interestingly, the Disney team does not view that audience as a generation but rather as members of a life stage i.e. ‘from your first kiss to your first kid’. This approach is not only interesting but, if executed properly, a very smart and practical new-look at age-centered branding.

And I submit dynamic forward-thinking, innovative marketers and brands, will soon see the light and begin to shift their perspective, from the traditional approach of narrowing the potential messaging reach to a specific demographic, to a far more open-ended, inclusive, personal, customized segmentation approach that does not originate from a prescribed notion of how a particular demographic wants to or “should” engage with brands.

Because at the end of the day, brands are your friends.

You’ll never be alone again.

Well come on*


*actual song lyrics from the Justice song “We Are your friends” that inspired the movie title.