Skip to main content

Why Millennials will save Madison Avenue.

(As published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.)

Listen in on most brand planning meetings and one word comes up over and over – Millennials.  Sometimes called GenY or EchoBoomers, this is the generation born between 1982 and 2000.  Millennials are no longer solely on the playground; they're running companies (Mark Zuckerberg), entertaining (Rihanna) and winning Olympic Gold (Shaun White).  To marketers, Millennials represent a 76 million strong brand-conscious demographic.

Recently, however, I’ve started viewing this generation through a different lens.  Beyond being a coveted advertising target, the characteristics that define this generation make them extremely well-equipped to re-architect the modern advertising agency.  

I believe this to be true because Millennials are widely viewed as a generation of collaborative, tech-savvy, multicultural, problem-solvers – the very skills necessary to address the questions marketers increasingly voice about their advertising agencies.

Let’s break it down by examining some of the defining traits of Millennials, as outlined by Lynn Lancaster and David Stillman in their recent book, The M-Factor, and examine how a career in advertising meshes with these values.

Millennials are inherently collaborative:  This is a generation that believes we > me.  They’ve been working in teams since kindergarten as classrooms increasingly emphasized group participation.  Soccer became the suburb’s biggest after-school sport because it prizes team flow over star-power.  Advertising is a great profession for people who thrive on collaboration (or “no walls”, as we call it at BD’M).  The agencies that are succeeding are those that have banished silos, where media, creative and strategy form one big mosh pit of ideas.

Millennials are the first multicultural generation:  This generation has grown up in a time in which the U.S. experienced dramatic growth in immigration and racial integration.  Multiculturalism is simply a fact of life for this group, reinforced early on by Sesame Street, and later in the classroom, as well as in film and music.  Let’s face a hard truth:  the advertising industry must do a better job when it comes to diversity. This is not simply a politically correct goal – it is an economic imperative. We're in the business of helping clients connect with main street America.  Agencies succeeded at this over the decades largely because we mirrored the face of America.  This is no longer true, and unless this changes we put at risk our ability to give our clients relevant and intimate customer insights.  Millennials can play a huge role in reshaping the face of agencies and our ability to understand and connect with multicultural America.

Millennials want to be innovators and problem-solvers: Marketers hire us because the lines on the graph are heading the wrong way.  At its core, advertising professionals solve problems by inspiring clients to embrace new solutions.  More and more these solutions involve online, mobile and social media.  Millennials have been training for this job since birth.

Millennials want to feel they are contributing: Boomers and Xers sometimes label Millennials a needy group requiring constant feedback.  To be sure, this is a generation that received trophies for simply participating, not to mention an endless flow of reinforcement from their “helicopter parents.”  Advertising is an excellent career for people who thrive on instant feedback.  In this business you’re either a hero or a goat; there’s nowhere to hide.  Whether you’re writing the TV spot, mapping the online user experience, or crunching the CPMs for the media plan, your work is out there in the white hot spotlight for all to critique. 

Millennials want a job in which they can be heard:  On the night before a pitch, a great idea knows no title.  If you are a so-called “junior” and feel you have the answer, irrespective of the fact that your title has half the syllables as that of your boss, shout out and be prepared to defend your point of view. Anybody who has worked with me knows that I refer to meetings as a full-contact sport.  Come play.

Millennials want to make a difference in the world:  Like it or not, we live in a consumer culture bombarded by media in all its forms.  Smart, talented and creative people can get intimately involved in creating marketing ideas that make a difference.  Witness Starbucks’ support of Red; Pepsi’s strategy to crowd-source world-changing ideas; Target’s support of the arts; GE’s ecomagination; or Ford’s support for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Millennials want to express who they are through work:  Good luck expressing yourself in a huge corporation.  Conversely, an agency is like high school for grown ups.  You can earn social currency through your individual sense of style, taste in music, tattoos, social causes or antics at the last party.   We really don’t care if you are gay, straight, indie, emo, conservative or downright crazy, just as long as you have smart ideas and come through when it counts.

To capitalize on the opportunity that Millennials present, the advertising industry has to begin making a clear case why this profession should attract this generation's best and brightest.  (Anybody who hasn’t viewed Rory Sutherland’s 2009 speech at TED –“Life lessons from an ad man.” should take a few moments to watch it and reflect on the economic value and cultural impact we create when we do our jobs well.)

The 4As must ramp up campus recruiting and attract talented graduates by connecting the values of this generation with the unique career opportunities advertising agencies present – a career that stands at the nexus of business, media, entertainment, technology, pop culture and any and all new trends.
Most importantly, senior leaders of advertising agencies need to stop dwelling on what they had to do back in the day to get ahead and instead unleash the creativity and energy of the twenty-somethings buried in their agencies.  Any agency that is having a hard time grappling with social and digital media is simply an agency that hasn’t tapped its in-house experts – its Millennials.

Comments

Great article on Millennials. You have done an excellent job describing their skills and attributes that will take us into a more collaborative, productive workplace.
I would just add their computer social skills and savvy will also be valuable.
Best regards,
RJ
Ed Reilly said…
Your article reminds me of Edelman's recent efforts covering the lives of Millennials: http://edelman8095.tumblr.com/
Walter Smith said…
This is so good. I wish we had this article at the beginning of our NSAC campaign. You really have done an excellent job explaining how millennials think and behave. Its good to know our generation is creating social change in the world. I'm sure your insights helped make you a beneficial judge at the District 10 AAF NSAC.
Best
WDS

Popular posts from this blog

What makes a premium brand premium?

I was thinking the other day about the DNA of premium brands . One thing is certain -- it's a relative idea. For example, Hyatt is not a premium brand if you're used to staying at a W or a Ritz Carlton. But if your vacations to date have been holed up in a Holiday Inn, then by all means a stay in a Hyatt is a premium experience. Another thing is certain -- a brand is considered premium only when we believe it is worth the price. And that's where we can dig deeper. Why are we willing to pay more for a product when there are others that provide the same service or function at a lesser price? I have spent a good part of my marketing career developing strategies and ideas for a wide range of  premium brands, including American Express, Sony, Callaway Golf, Hilton, Jaguar, Land Rover – even the Toyota Prius.  Through these experiences I have come to believe that a premium brand is built upon specific tangible and intangible attributes that give it a sense wort

Zen and the art of an EV roadtrip.

I remember the anxiety I had when I cut the cord and switched from Cable TV to streaming.   Could I still watch live sports? Would I get all my favorite programs? Sure enough, with YouTube TV, the answer was a resounding yes to both questions.   Now I’m cutting a new cord — the gas pump — as I take my new Mustang Mach-E on a cross-country trip.   And like the time I cut Cable TV, I'm experiencing the same questions.  Will it have the range for a long drive?  Will I waste hours recharging along the way? Well, today is Day 1 on the Mach-E's first ever long distance drive , as we say farewell to Detroit and head to La Quinta.   For those of you thinking about buying an EV, I’ll be sharing daily posts to help alleviate so-called “range anxiety.”   (Trust me, in pressing the start button this morning, I’m taking a big trust-fall to shed the comfy muscle memory of ICE vehicles.) Today’s cool feature:   The FordPass app which plans the route and most efficient charge points, then send

Super game. Dull ads

As a passionate Giants fan it is safe to say that I had a good time yesterday. But as an advertising professional I felt a bit underwhelmed by the caliber of the advertising . Many were entertaining. But few possessed that intangible Super Bowl-ness...big, pop-cultural, fun. Even fewer seemed to have anything relevant to say about the brand, such as the Planters "uni-brow" spot. I loved the Bridgestone "screaming animals" spot, but it would have been a much better spot for the Saab featured in the spot than the tires the car rode upon. As for Bud, good spots, but I've seen the dog and horse thing before. Tide's talking stain was funny, but did it have Super Bowl-ness? My fav? The Coke "balloon float" spot. It was classic Coke (for Coke Classic). Big. Entertaining. Unexpected twist. Utterly charming. And Charlie Brown finally won something. Coke is about smiles. And that spot was just that. The Audi spot that I wrote about last week