August 02, 2017
Marketers And Millennials
Earlier this week, The Drum had a piece by Samuel Scott about marketing and millennials. As an add-on to the piece, Scott interviewed me about my thoughts on the subject. The following is a reprint of that interview.
Samuel Scott: One rule in marketing is to 'hook them while they're young', so marketers have usually devoted some of their budgets to that. After all, no one would want to purchase luxury cars in middle age unless they had seen ads for those cars their entire lives. How useful has this approach been in general over the decades? Has the usefulness of this practice changed in recent years?
Bob Hoffman: It depends on the category. People buy luxury cars in middle age that didn’t even exist when they were young (Tesla). But some products (Coke) are bought not because we saw an ad yesterday, but because of the ads we’ve seen for 20 (or 30 or 40) years. For the most part, advertising now because you think somebody’s going to buy your product in 20 years is stupid. We see that all the time in the car industry.
Scott: A frequent comment about millennials is that they are still broke at worst or underemployed at best following factors including the 2008 financial crisis. How valuable of a demographic segment are they today? But even if they have less money today, will they not have more money tomorrow? What is the problem with brand advertisers targeting them with long-term goals in mind?
Hoffman: There’s nothing wrong with targeting millennials when appropriate. The problem isn’t targeting. The problem is obsession.
Scott: Of course, 'millennials' may be a demographic segment but they may not be a useful marketing segment. Why are there so many news articles and marketing essays today that focus on what millennials want as though they have a single identity and set of characteristics?
Hoffman: There is just as much diversity within generations as there is between generations. The idiotic idea that all millennials are this or all baby boomers are that is just the stupid lazy thinking that makes most of marketing a joke. Remember, marketing consultants and researchers have to make a living. So every few years they have to come up with new 'generational' bullshit to sell to jackasses in marketing departments and ad agencies.
Scott: Most news articles out there portray millennials in a negative light. They are supposedly narcissistic, selfie-absorbed snowflakes who are lazy and want trophies for everything. I don't believe that. But why does everyone have those negative perceptions?
Hoffman: You can always find a component of any population that is lazy, self-absorbed and narcissistic. Nothing new here. But because culture and technology change, the manifestations of laziness, self-absorption and narcissism change. Consequently there is always something that seems new to write about. It’s horseshit, but it’s good copy.
Scott: Many marketers believe in segmentation. But is there not a case for some B2C products and platforms with millions of users such as Snapchat or Coca-Cola targeting a broad demographic group such as millennials?
Hoffman: Sure. At different age stages we use different types of products.
Scott: From what I have read, baby boomers have all the money and are projected to live a very long time. So, why do you think that marketers ignore them?
Hoffman: I could write a text book on this subject. In short, marketers ignore mature people because we hate them. All the 'reasons' for ignoring older people are bullshit. Ignoring mature people and obsessing over millennials is just narcissism disguised as strategy. It is marketing by selfie-stick.
Scott: Can you cite any examples of brands losing sales or market share by focusing on millennials?
Hoffman: Scion targeted millennials, although at the time people over 35 bought 88% of 'youth vehicles'. It succeeded in becoming the car brand with the youngest owner population — and it went out of business.
Scott: What do you recommend brands do in the future in terms of generational targeting?
Hoffman: I recommend they ignore the ignorant, lazy thinking of generational cliches. Stop trying to hold a mirror up to your target and saying “we’re just like you”. Advertising should be about the desirability of your product, not your superficial assumptions about who I am.
Scott: What do you wish digital-focused millennials would know about traditional marketing and advertising?
Hoffman: I wish they knew how much they don’t know.
Scott: Lastly, I myself straddle the border between Generation X and the millennials. Generation X has always gotten lost in the debate. What do you think of us?
Hoffman: I think you’re all lazy, self-absorbed and narcissistic.
In other news...
I have a new website which you are welcome to visit here.
The Australian Financial Review did a nice story on my misgivings about online advertising here.