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Why PR has got millennials all wrong

What do North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and England’s World Cup revelation Kieran Trippier have in common? 

Apart from the same side-shaven hairstyle, they can both be described as millennials.

Much has been written about millennials – in the last week I’ve learnt they skip breakfast, aren’t having kids, are the worst at tipping AND are likely to have worse health than their parents in middle age.

Useless definition

Now a quick investigation of definitions reveals that millennials can be defined as someone born between 1980 and 2004 – in other words it’s an age group that covers a quarter of the population. The thought that a 38-year-old male labourer from Scotland with a wife and two kids can usefully be considered part of the same group as a 14-year-old school girl from Woking is pretty daft, and borderline madness for describing a useful marketing target.

"Is a millennial a 27-year-old English footballer or a 35-year-old dictator?"

Pew Research adopt a narrower categorisation, defining millennials as those coming of age in the 21st Century, so typically aged 22-38. Even then that’s very broad, spanning as it does a married couple with teenage children and singles in their first job. And if a term has more than one definition we can see how problems might begin.

A bigger issue with the use of stereotypes is when we ascribe consistent values and behaviours to it.  Again, I’ve read that millennials seek out brands that are ethical and sustainable; they crave a healthy lifestyle; are innovators and disrupters; don’t like diets; and have a shorter attention span.

Forget stereotypes

In my view the greatest risk of using stereotypes as the starting point in marketing and comms development is that the process doesn’t begin with people, but with an idealised view of a group of people. You start with the general, a composite, blended view, and attempt to apply it to the needs and attitudes of real specific people.

Of course, stereotypes can be valuable as a useful shorthand that everyone understands, and they ARE based on a grain of truth. They can play a vital part of market or customer segmentation – but if used as the starting point for the creation of meaningful insight there’s an enormous risk the outcomes will be self-fulfilling rather than providing genuine insight for the development of impactful marketing and creative campaigns aimed at real human beings.

Get real

So the next time someone says “millennial” in a brief or meeting and everyone nods sagely and strokes their chin, someone needs to ask, do you mean a 27-year-old English footballer or a 35-year-old dictator?

Even better, go and talk to members of the specific group you are interested in, listen to their views and attitudes and use them as the starting point for the development of insight and creative campaigns. In our experience it always produces better work. Because while Trippier looks like he might skip the odd breakfast, we’re betting Kim Jong-un probably had at least two.

Written by Tim Evans, partner at consultancy Pitch-Side

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