I’ve never been a fan of bullshit. My first memorable experience of such a thing came at my very first job, when my then boss explained to me why the word ‘distraction’ was so important to marketing.
“You see,” he said, “distraction has two parts to it. The first distracts, while the second is all about action. It’s distracting action, and that’s what all marketing needs to be.”
Had I been less keen to earn money at the time, I would have pointed out to him that he’d basically just defined distraction to me and not really described anything new. However, I learnt then that sometimes it’s best to keep my worldly opinions to myself and that, quite often in life, bullshit will just have to be something we accept.
Having said that, there is one more recent instance of bullshit that needs to be killed before it grows too big. Such bullshit is the term ‘millennials’.
I hate it. I want to hurt it. I want to befriend it so that it learns to trust me and then slowly destroy it from the inside. I want to have its babies just so I can turn them against it and watch the joy die in its eyes. I want to write it a cutting letter. I want to write an angsty blog post about it.
Sadly for me, hatred alone is not enough insight to base a piece of writing on. Sure, it has been in the past, but due to several legal reasons and a number of harassment charges I now need to validate my content with some form of truth.
So let us begin with a handy millennial definition:
What even is a millennial?
According to Wikipedia, ‘millennials are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates for when the generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to around 2000.’
In summary, millennials are people between 16 and 36 years old. By definition, I myself am one. Shit.
Why does the term ‘millennials’ exist?
Apparently two authors coined millennials, but I can’t find any justification to blame William Strauss and Neil Howe for such an abomination. Instead I feel I need to look closer to home and blame the marketing industry. As a group we do have a habit of herding people together – it makes them easier to sell to. If you’ve ever read Campaign, The Drum, Marketing Week or any other such publication you’ll see the word millennials popping up like adult acne.
What do millennials do?
According to Strauss and Howe, each generational group has a set of features that makes it easy to define. Millennials, they claim, will grow to have a strong sense of community on both a local and global scale. Another author, Jean Twenge, says that millennials will have confidence and tolerance, however will also show occasional signs of entitlement and narcissistic tendencies.
In reality, though, millennials do whatever it is that makes sense of the advertising campaign being aimed at them, and that is where my research ends and my vitriol begins. Cue the aggressive music.
The problem with generalisation.
As I mentioned earlier, millennials are classed as being between 16 and 36 years old, with most publications offering a similar age range. This on its own makes the term useless. If I receive a brief and it tells me my target audience is millennials, I now have quite a diverse section of society to aim for.
I don’t know any 16 year olds that have crippling student debt that they’ll never pay off. I don’t know any 36 year olds who are that active on Snapchat. I’ve never met a 21 year old who’s been able to save up for a deposit on a house.
The lifestyles of millennials are all drastically different. What might appeal to one end of the spectrum would completely alienate the other. To talk about an entire age range with one sweeping term is both naive and lazy, and the advertising industry needs to hold its hands up and say sorry for that. All of these people with unique personalities and identities have been put in the same box, told they like doing the same things, and been informed that they’ll all feel a certain way. That’s just daft.
So if millennials is a rubbish term, why do people use it?
The answer to this comes in two parts. The first of which, as mentioned, is laziness. It is much easier to create something that vaguely appeals to a wide group of people than it is to make something that really appeals to a select few. We can assume, for example, that most millennials have a social media profile, therefore we can get away with creating a Facebook ad to try and target them. The fact that Facebook is becoming less appealing to teenagers can be ignored, because it’s still very popular amongst those in their mid-20s. Laziness, see, it has its benefits.
The second part of the answer is trend. Terminology has a habit of spreading, which is how nearly every marketing buzzword has found its way across the industry. When someone uses a term and packs information behind it, other people think the term has value. It sounds good, and oh boy did that Powerpoint presentation offer up some interesting takeaways, so I’ll start using it myself to sound smart. The more it’s used the more acceptable it becomes, and it acts as a handy get out of jail card when you run out of actual things to say.
“Is there any information we should know before we start working on this?”
“Erm, millennials! Hashtags! Memes!”
Surely there must be something we can do to stop it?
Thank God you asked. Just like any bad habit, the most effective way to quit is to go cold turkey. With that in mind, I’d urge you all to punch yourself incredibly hard in the groin if ever you utter the m word. I’d encourage every one of you to refuse to do any work if the m word has been mentioned in the brief. Hold out until an actual target audience has been suggested, or you’ll just be pissing in the assumptive wind.
Finally, I’d strongly advise that any millennial reading this takes a stand. You are not a sheep, millennials, you are a strong, independent woman, man, or other, and you deserve to be treated like the individual you are.
Do not conform. Do not become part of the heard. Move in your own directions and prove society wrong, damn it.