Don’t Break these 2 Simple Rules when Marketing to Millennials

There’s new research coming out about Millennials each day, ranging from how marriage is not a priority to how store brands are more popular among our demographic. I’ll admit Millennials are a difficult group to figure out. We grew up as digital natives and are constantly connected to social media and technology. Millennials are expected to have $200 billion in purchasing power by 2017, making it an exciting time for brands to get a piece of the action.

It’s confusing to sort through all of the clutter to understand how the research can translate from lessons learned to actionable insights for major brands. The opportunity is lost as brands sacrifice being authentic and creating meaningful relationships in favor of trying to appear trendy and in-the-know about Millennial culture.

While many myths about Millennials have been debunked, some brands commit serious “don’ts” when trying to win over Millennials’ hearts and wallets.

Rule 1: Don’t try to be nostalgic with us

The Pew Research Center defines Millennials as those born after 1980. We grew up in the culture of the 90s characterized by pop princesses and boy bands, Nickelodeon cartoons and snack foods that are difficult to find or no longer exist. (Anyone up for an orange Mondo or a pack of vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkle Dunkaroos?) As 20-somethings, we daydream about never having the chance to get our piece of the Super Aggro Crag on “GUTS” or how getting slimed on “Double Dare” must have felt. Websites like BuzzFeed have done a wonderful job at creating content that appeals to Millennials’ desire to re-live the ‘90s, but that doesn’t mean major brands should join in that conversation.

General Mills launched a series of advertisements for their Honey Nut Cheerios brand aimed at Millennials to evoke that same nostalgia. The brand’s Buzz the Bee mascot even claims that the ‘90s are back on his Tumblr page. Combine that with the new commercial featuring “Must Be the Honey” – a twist on Nelly’s 2000 hit “Ride Wit Me” – and Nelly himself, and we see that General Mills’ efforts to attract Millennials are in full force. While we may have grown up eating Honey Nut Cheerios, the connection between the brand and the ‘90s is too much of a stretch for it to still appeal to Millennials.

Rule 2: Don’t try and speak our language if it’s not authentic

Previous generations tossed around words like “groovy” and “hip”; Millennials have their own lingo, including “legit” and phrases such as “I can’t.” Symbol-language that uses Emojis to convey emotions have become popular in texting and social media and on many television shows; notably on the award-winning HBO series “Girls” that follows the lives of a group of 20-somethings in New York City.

And although there are places to use texts like OMG and LOL, this Fanta ad is not one of them:

It comes across as trying too hard to engage Millennials but isn’t authentic to the Fanta brand. Just as Millennials don’t think it’s cool for their parents to try to use “WTF” in texts, brands need to think about trying to relate to consumers in a meaningful way, as there are implications for jumping on a trend that doesn’t fit the brand ethos.

Instead of trying to speak to Millennials in our own language and latch onto pieces of our culture so as to be seen as interesting and involved in the conversation, brands should connect with causes we’re passionate about or show us how other Millennials are using their products. Tell us a legit brand story; don’t get too caught up in whether you think it will make us LOL. That makes us cringe just as much as that pending friend request from our parents on Facebook.

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