Advertising to the nation’s largest age group, Millennials


Millennials are the United States’ largest age group. At about 75-80 million they are a fourth of the country’s total population and yet very few companies are properly targeting them. The rampant stereotypes and misnomers about the group are the biggest reasons why. Here’s some background.

There are a lot of opinions on millennials out there, and very few of them are positive. Even millennials can be hard on their own generational cohorts, though one would suggest that this is most likely due to an innate human desire to feel ‘special’ or ‘unique’ which makes us more likely to state things like, “why is my generation so lazy, I work very hard.” It’s because we want to believe we work harder than our peers.

The best example of the negativity towards this generation is shown in the Google search bar, in which the query of “why are millennials” auto finishes with, “so lazy” and “so wary of freedom” — We assume the second one is due to millennials tendency to vote much more liberally than Generation X and Baby Boomers. This is something which has especially confounded the conservative boomers– whose leadership has led to the Great Recession, a President Trump, and the general decline of American prestige. As of right now there are dozens of articles claiming millennials are killing everything from class, to the Canadian tourism industry, to religious freedom, all the way to vacations.

The dates used to define each of the generations are hazy of course, with the U.S. Census Bureau, Pew Research, Harvard, and many other institutions all giving slightly different ranges.

The G.I. Generation grew up during the Great Depression and fought in the Second World War, so when you’re fangirling over D-day you’re celebrating our bravest, fiercest generation to date.

The Silent Generation came next. Their name is a bit of an insult because it denotes the fact that they cared more about their careers than activism, and allowed horrific atrocities to occur– though a select few were prominent civil rights leaders.

Next comes one of the more controversial generations, the Baby Boomers. This generation started liberal and brought about one of the biggest cultural divisions in the history of the United States, before turning conservative, just in time to fiercely clash with Millennials. However their leadership of the country in the last couple of decades has brought about a lot of contention with events like the Great Recession.

Generation X is the opposite of the Boomers in that they are loosely defined. Whereas everyone knows what a Baby Boomer is, very few know what a Generation X’er is, and there is little consensus. They’re the generation who truly lies in between multiple revolutions and the advent of technology as the major driving force of our day to day lives.

This finally brings us to Millenials– sometimes called Generation Y, and the newest group, Generation Z. Because Generation Z has not fully come of age, it is very hard to draw a clear line between them and millennials, making it difficult to characterize them. Millennials on the other hand range from age groups of 18-38, and therefore are ripe for the stereotyping. And as we’ve already pointed out, they’re often stereotyped and targeted incorrectly.


According to the Harvard Business Review, “Millennials are actually workaholics”. Knowing this, the assertion that millennials are lazy stops being simply insidious and becomes downright character assassination. Taken further it should change how and where you target millennials for advertising. Another example comes in the form of education numbers. This group of adults is the most educated in American history, with at least 54% having had some sort of college education. However as NPR has reported, the idea of millennials being overeducated is a myth, because around two thirds of them have no degree. So you’re actually leaving out the majority of millennials when you target only college graduates.

When it comes to living arrangements the picture of urbanite youth making their way in the big city takes a hit as well. Though it is true that rural living is clearly not for millennials, (only 14% of them reside in rural communities), you’d be surprised to learn that only 32% live in central cities. While this number is higher than any other age group, it’s still only a third of the demographic. It turns out that if you’re targeting millennials, you should target the suburbs– (which were a terrible mistake to create), because a full 54% of them live in the suburbs. This paints an entirely different picture of the suburbs than what current popular culture would have us believe, and should change the way you market to suburban areas. If we were to speculate, we’d conclude that this high rate of suburban living may be forced– since millennials are more likely to live with their parents and are therefore more likely to be forced into suburban living.

Millennials are thought to be avocado-eating, organic food lovers– which is wrong on many levels, and not just because organic food is a huge lie. They are actually less likely to buy organic than Generation X at 38%, and only 1% more likely than Baby Boomers to do so, 36% vs 35%. Therefore the idea that organic somehow appeals to millennials more than any other generation is baseless. In fact if organic is one of your selling points you should be targeting more than the youth.

What is true however, is that millennials are more environmentally conscious and more likely to recognize that global warming is a fact. Which means that if sustainability and the environment are your selling points, millennials are your bread and butter.


Of course some of the stereotypes are correct, for example the way technology has been fused into the lives of this age group. 83% of millennials sleep with their phones.

“Millennials outpace older Americans in virtually all types of internet and cell use. They are more likely to have their own social networking profiles, to connect to the internet wirelessly when away from home or work, and to post video of themselves online” (Pew Research Center, “Millennials A Portrait of Generation Next”).

90% of all millennials use the internet, and 75% of millennials use social networking vs 41% of the population on average. Basically, if your digital marketing platforms aren’t mobile-friendly, you’ll be cutting out huge swaths of the population.

It is delusional to think the incoming Generation’s Z and Alpha are going to be any less reliant on the internet and their mobile devices. Targeting these generations now becomes essential to the survival of your business. You must stand out through all the white noise and clamor through creative marketing strategies that will effectively spend your ad dollars in the right place.


The last thing to note is the widely known fact that millennials are significantly more liberal than members of other generations.

“This is reflected not just in their partisan identification and voting patterns, but also in their overall views about the role of government and about a range of social and national security issues,” (Pew Research Center, “Millennials A Portrait of Generation Next”).

This tendency to describe themselves as liberal and care about social issues should affect your marketing in multiple ways. The only one we’ll touch on here is the fact that 34% of millennials have “buycotted”, (bought a product in the last year because they agreed with the social or political values of a company), and 35% have boycotted companies they disagreed with. This means that not only can you sell more if your values align with the group and you publicize this fact, but you can actually be penalized severely for going against the grain.

Now in no way are we trying to force companies to lie about their positions, as that would be insincere and insincerity in of itself drives away customers– but it can’t hurt to play to your advantages. If you’re a gay owned restaurant, big on sustainability whose owners’ were thrilled by the #MeToo movement and you want to target millennials, then publicize that sort of information.

It’s important to realize that we aren’t always given the full story, and while we might not all want to parse through a 149 page book of a research paper in order to find the facts, you should at the very least consider a professional firm that is willing to do that research on your behalf or risk wasting valuable resources on ineffective marketing. There was a lot left out of this article which our company have kept on file– we can’t be giving away all of our trade secrets now can we?

This article was written by Cameron Sharpe for Critical Launch in collaboration with our partner at J. Waylon & Associates.

Unless noted, photos sourced through Unsplash.

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