NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Everyone wants a piece of the coveted millennial market. But to harness Gen-Y buying power, marketers must first understand what makes it different. Even with the mountain of research that's being conducted on this generation, that can be easier said than done.
Nick Shore, head of research at MTV, presented the findings of his ongoing study titled "The Millennial Edge" at Ad Age's Media Evolved Conference as part of a presentation called "Snooki's Media Diet." (Snooki, for the uninitiated, is one of the stars of MTV's hit reality show "Jersey Shore.")
His research, which ultimately serves to inform programming creation and development for MTV, holds some key lessons about millennials that directly affect how marketers should (and, importantly, shouldn't) reach the first generation of "digital natives."
His presentation was followed by a panel of millennials (aged 20-30) who work at MTV, and the conversation revolved around a few highlights from Mr. Shore's study:
Smart and funny is the new rock 'n' roll
This isn't a new line for Mr. Shore (see Ad Age's Consumer Issue profile on millennials for some background on the demographic), but it's only gaining credence. "Edgy humor and wit is playing the iconoclastic rock 'n' roll role," he said. Indeed, a few of the millennials on the panel agreed that humor is a necessary component to popularity in the digital age. "One way to become popular on Twitter, to get a lot of followers, is to be the funniest and wittiest within 140 character limit," said Gabi Gregg, MTV's "Twitter Jockey."
Running the bases backwards
The old rules of dating and hooking up are precisely that, according to Mr. Shore, whose research suggests that hooking up comes before an actual first date with many millennials. This, besides being an important cultural indicator, is an untapped tension point for content creation, Mr. Shore said.
Though adolescents and young adults have always struggled to reinvent themselves as a form of expression, exposure to a higher volume of media has only added more pressure for millennials to define themselves and stay fresh and interesting. "What took Madonna 10 years, in terms of reinvention, took Lady Gaga 10 minutes," Mr. Shore said, while showing a slide of two images of two very different incarnations Lady Gaga has assumed in her short career -- one of her clad in a Cleopatra wig and disco ball shoulder pad from 2008, and another of her this year, draped in her infamous meat dress from the MTV Video Music Awards.
The invisible fence
While over-parenting and "peer-enting" are commonly blamed for millennial entitlement, Mr. Shore suggests millennials just don't know where the line is because it's never been drawn for them. "Kids develop an obsession with the edge," he said. "Mom and Dad never punished me. What is [the line]? Where is it? How do I find it?"
Millennials have grown up with reality programming (much of it on MTV, including "The Real World" and even "Jersey Shore"). But that so-called reality has blurred the line between reality, hyper-reality and other, more scripted kinds of content. As a result, there's an untapped need for something absolute. "There's a real hunger for authenticity. Millennials crave something unequivocally real," Mr. Shore said.