Is targeting millennials a lazy marketing strategy?

McDonald’s announced last week that as part of its turnaround strategy it will stop “sweeping talk to millennials”. Nonetheless, reaching the 18 to 34 age group through aspirational marketing is a strategy many brands are still racing to employ.

However, in many cases their efforts to cut through appear to be failing.

Millennials, or those aged 18 to 34, make up one in four adults in the UK and are forecasted to make up 17 million of the population by 2019, according to research from Bauer Media released earlier this year titled “The Millennial Chapter”.

Brands have certainly not overlooked this highly valuable audience, with many directly targeting the demographic through marketing campaigns and innovation.

Most recently, global wine and spirits company Brown-Forman launched a lower-alcohol fruit-flavoured vodka targeted at the 19-24 female age group following research which showed that none of the consumers “felt like any spirits brands were specifically targeting them”, according to marketing manager Charlotte Ashburner.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of brands have formed dance music tie-ups in an effort to reach millennial audiences – Cadbury recently partnered with DJ David Guetta to promote the 100th anniversary of its Milk Tray product, while brands such as 7up, Smirnoff, Bacardi, K-Swiss and Volvo have partnered with Tiesto, Steve Aoki, Calvin Harris, Diplo and Avicii on recent campaigns.

Speaking on the brand’s tie-up to Avicii last month, Alain Visser, senior vice president of sales, marketing and customer service at Volvo Car Group, told Marketing Week that the brand is trying to reach a younger audience through less “traditional” marketing, adding that Avicii’s fan base, which he calls “young, trendy, cool 25-year-olds” are younger than Volvo’s target audience, opening up an opportunity to reach new consumers.

“We’re going to go after a lot of younger people who probably don’t see Volvo as a brand with young appeal,” he said. “We want to become more relevant to that younger audience.”

However, recent data suggests that despite their efforts, brands are failing to appeal to the wide-ranging age group.

A study in February by ZenithOptimedia found that the 18 to 34 are less materialistic than their predecessors and more concerned with health, wellbeing and achieving career goals, and feel a growing affinity for brands that help them to take control of their lives and offer worthwhile experiences rather than more possessions.

Food brands seem to be facing even more of a challenge, with research released in March by creative agency Haygarth in partnership with market research firm Flamingo finding that only 11% of millennials feel that food advertising is aimed at them, despite the fact that more than a third (33.7%) think it is more important to be knowledgeable about food (40.4%) than fashion (26.7%).

Richard Armstrong, founder of content marketing agency Kameleon which has been behind brand tie-ups such as Evian and Rizzle Kicks or Volvic and Made in Chelsea star Jamie Laing, told Marketing Week: “Much has been made of the Millennial target audience recently. But take a deeper dive, and Millennials as a demographic is very broad, covering an audience born from the mid-80s up until the early naughties.

“Sure, there will be always be similarities and common passion-points across similar age groups, but glaring differences appear when you look at an audience born across two-decades. Take the Spice Girls and Jake Boys (if you don’t know who he is I think my point is made).”

It is clear that brands need to adapt their approach to reaching these young adult consumers. However, instead of a change in messaging to reach this valuable age group, perhaps they should stop thinking of them as a “group” at all.

Speaking about the company’s turnaround strategy last week, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook announced plans for “less sweeping talk to millennials”, saying the company will instead look to be “more specific on the customer groups where we need to win”.

Smirnoff has taken on a similar approach, with Dan Hatton, the vodka brand’s marketing manager, telling Marketing Week that “the days of buying media against one target group are long gone”, stating that it is a “mind set” and “attitudinal consumer” with a certain set of beliefs the brand is now trying to reach.

Jerry Perkins, CEO of Mixmag Media, which offers native advertising opportunities through its dance music network, agreed, telling Marketing Week that “targeting an age group is quite lazy these days”, adding that partnerships such as Volvo and Avicii might not be seen as credible among millennial audiences because the companies are “trying to chisel two brand values into one”.

Perkins also agrees that brands should be tapping into a lifestyle and values rather than a demographic, and that they need to look to co-creation and use a “bottom-up approach” to do so credibly.

“As long as its done in a credible way where a brand is seen to be helping an artist, consumers are happy with the association,” he adds of music tie-ups.

Meanwhile, with the amount of data currently available to marketers as personalisation has become a key to reaching consumers, marketers need to continually work to understand what their target audience is looking for.

“For me in the era of big data and personalisation, the brands and agencies who will go on to continually capture the hearts and minds of audiences will hone their focus when grouping their target audience,” Armstrong added.

“Technology is making advertising optional for consumers, and the campaigns that will succeed are the ones that are most relevant, with the most engaging story at their heart, which can only come from having identified a specific audience segment and their motivations.”



There is one comment at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Angel 12 May 2015

    I think the short answer to the question is “yes”.

    Yes, it is incredibly lazy. You can’t just lump together an age group that wide and expect to deliver anything meaningful. What do I, as a 33 year-old, have in common with an 11 year-old child? Besides being (rather arbitrarily) defined as a “Millenial”, absolutely nothing.

    I think that it makes sense to group people together in 5-10 year increments (depending on your target and what you’re marketing, ofc) because they’re generally hovering around the same life stage, have grown up with similar pop culture and technology, and tend to have more in common behaviourally and socially, but marketers realised a hell of a long time ago that there’s a LOT more that goes into targeting than age. That’s why a relatively basic target market is generally listed as something like, “M/F 25-35, ABC1 who are working professionals, have no children, and live within a major city,” along with a few more behavioural/cultural/value-based similarities, not “Humans aged 11-35.”

    You group people together based upon what they’re defined as. What you don’t freaking do is group 25 years’ worth of human beings together and then try to reverse-engineer a definition.

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