Supposedly, millennials are having an identity crisis. The name attributed to those born between 1980 and 2000 is a daily buzzword in the marketing world – and whilst this pseudo-terminology seems harmless at first, it generates an image in one’s mind. The typical millennial; young, confident, spoiled, and often lazy.
Whilst it has been suggested that the 16 to 35s are spending more money than their generational predecessors – and it is said that by 2017, they will have more spending power than any other generation – and this makes them a worthy bulls-eye for targeted marketing – they are also seemingly savvier than their predecessors. Jillian Berman at Market Watch quite aptly stated her feeling that anyone using the word un-ironically to describe the generation is “either trying to sell me something or explain me to their customers – so they can sell me something”. And it’s true we’ve seen many studies in so-called millennials’ responsiveness to traditional marketing techniques – favouring word-of-mouth and influencers over direct approaches, and generally having more autonomy over their decisions as consumers (or at least thinking that they do; beauty bloggers’ idealisation of the Beauty Blender tells a different story)
As it turns out, two thirds of ‘millennials’ or ‘Generation Y’ agree with Berman – with 66 per cent of those asked by the Public Religion Research Institute claiming that they feel the term doesn’t describe them well.
Of course, the nature of marketing always has been to segment demographics, and age is just one of these categories – but a study by the Pew Research Centre suggests that those in the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation are proud to refer to themselves thusly; whereas Millennials are disdainful of the term and the connotations it carries. Philippe von Borries of Business Insider Singapore has suggested in this excellent article that the segment spans more than just an age group – it speaks of a culture, and a way of thinking.
And whilst it does appear that previous generations consider Generation Y to be ‘entitled’ and ‘whiny’ – Pew’s research also suggests that they are more tolerant, accepting, and environmentally and socially conscious.
Perhaps it’s just that, as a generation celebrating tolerance and individuality, they are contemptible of the feeling of being pigeonholed by a condescending term? And might it be safe to presume that, as millennials take the torch in higher marketing roles, the incessant need to label them will dissipate?
The other side to the millennial coin, of course, is that the generation is reaching its ‘coming of age’ career-wise. Earlier this year, a study by High Fliers suggested that over 1,000 graduate positions went unfilled last year, as top-tier graduates held out for better benefits packages. Allegedly, millennials are lazy – but as von Borries states, the truth is far from it. Millennials are a career-focused generation with “unprecedented access to information”.
“We have indescribable confidence, an innate sense of power and self-belief that you often cannot put your finger on. You could misconstrue that as entitlement, but you shouldn’t,” von Borries explains. And as the generation blossoms into the next generation of marketers, that “them” becomes “us”. Culture has evolved to reflect the millennial psyche – and we need to stop talking about them as a separate entity, but rather as people.
At least for now, it’s time to drop the word from our lexicon.