While we're all warming ourselves with heated debate over who or
what will be the next "Epic Split," I'd like to propose a lifetime
achievement award for the marketing consultants who've had an
entire industry living in abject fear for the better part of the
last 10 years.
Fear of climate change? Fear of nuclear armageddon? Fear of
drug-resistant airborne Super Ebola?
No. Fear of millennials, an invasive alien species so unlike
everything that came before them that, gosh darnit, you're going to
need to rip up your entire marketing and media plans. While you're
at it, hire them fresh out of college and anoint them exec VP of
something. But don't demand that they work a regular workweek
because these kids, these precious little flowers? They're not
having it. And just stop trying to sell them cars, because they
care so much about the planet that they're never driving again.
If that sounds ridiculous, it is. But that's the world most of
us are living in.
And it's an imaginary one!
I don't blame marketing consultants. Like any good
marketers, they created a need and filled it. And they weren't
alone in this world-building.
Publishers helped. Because if there was one thing that
guaranteed some cheap and easy web traffic, it was writing about
Why was this such traffic gold? Basic human nature. Old people
love to hate young people. And people can't resist reading about
themselves. Each millennial piece sprouted its own little ecosystem
as millennials tried to defend their generation. (Note to the
yewts: True wisdom is just letting the olds grouse. Once we get it
out of our system, we'll fall asleep.)
As it turned out, some of the most truthy-sounding pieces came
from journalists and "thought-leaders" (slap me with a tuna if I
ever use that phrase outside of derisive quotation marks) who,
having previously abandoned suburbs for "creative" jobs in urban
centers, suddenly turned up scads of evidence that the suburbs were
dying as a millennial mass exodus moved to urban centers for
Which made the marketing consultants happy, because it lent a
scientific sheen to their fear campaign. Even if it was an
unhealthy mix of bad research and confirmation bias.
According to a January story in The Wall Street Journal
about population migration, urban cores have recently
seen population growth that "rivaled suburbs in percentage terms."
"Rivaled" does not mean "exceeded." But wait, there's more:
"Trulia's chief economist, Jed Kolko, says
'old patterns have returned' and 'suburbs are now gaining
population faster than urban neighborhoods.' Surveys by both Trulia
and the National Association of Home Builders suggest millennials
still desire suburban homes."
As the kids say, WTF?
Millennials are getting older. They're getting married, having
babies and moving out of mommy's house. And it turns out they're
There are smart millennials and dumb millennials, annoying
millennials and charming millennials. Lots of them did
move to the city, where they grew up to become anecdotal evidence
in shoddy feature stories. But lots of them stayed in suburban and
rural areas, went into nursing or law or plumbing, ate at Chili's
and McDonald's, didn't shop at a farmer's market for artisanal
seasonal root vegetables and were never the subject of a 1,200-word
feature in Thumbsucker Daily or on MarketingHysteria.com.
Are there some differences between millennials and the rest of
us? Obviously. The most noticeable and drastic change is in media
consumption. But you know who else's media habits are drastically
Ultimately, millennials were young people like other young
people before them: idealistic, loud, eager to try new things. They
did grow up a little slower. But they have grown up. As my
colleague Maureen Morrison previously
reported, in the next decade, 80% of millennials will be
parents. Once the babies come, millennials start bargain-hunting
for deals on toothpaste and soap and brooms and minivans.
And their media habits will continue to change. I won't be so
brash as to predict that in 10 years, millennials will be glued to
the recliner watching "CSI: Portland" before passing out. But once
you hit 35 or so and are running kids to Little League and soccer,
cord-cutting and time-shifting -- hunting down your entertainment
-- starts to feel like just another job.
All of which is good news for marketers. Sure, advertisers have
to face new media realities. But ultimately, what has always
mattered in marketing still matters: creating products that people
need or want -- backed by messaging (whatever form it takes) that
makes people think they need or want those products.
So take a deep breath. Put the hype behind you. And remember
this when the marketing consultants start yammering about the
iGeneration or whatever stupid name they affix to whatever's coming
next. There is nothing to fear.
In fact, in this long winter of 2015, there's a millennial out
there somewhere -- maybe more than one -- pushing a
noise-polluting, carbon-spewing snowblower up and down the driveway
so his wife can get to work and he can drop the kid off at
preschool before hitting the grocery store. He has a shopping list
a yard long.
That's not very exciting. But it is interesting.
Especially if you sell snowblowers.
Ken Wheaton, the managing editor of Advertising Age, writes
our Last Word column. His latest novel,
"Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears," was published in