Millennial Truths: What Marketers Don’t Want You to Know

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There is no word that a Millennial is more tired of hearing than “Millennial.” A cursory Google search will bombard you with headlines that are as contradictory as they are condescending, making bold declarations about a large, complex group of people based off of a few scattered data points.

“Millennials want their cars,” the title declares, as if the fact that young people today wanted independence and mobility was somehow shocking. “Most millennials say they’d rather rent than buy a home — a decision that could cost them more than $700,000 over the course of their lives,” the headline states, as if Millennials made bad financial decisions for some inexplicable, quirky reason to do with mason jars rather than because they are subject to the same broader economic forces we all are.

As a 25 year old, craft brew sipping, Twitter obsessed, card carrying (but not cash, God forbid) Millennial, I am frustrated with shallow, lazy thought-pieces that pass for analysis of our generation. The media treats us as these weird, unique little creatures who inexplicably refuse to buy homes and are “skittish from the recession” (as if skittishness were an adolescent mood swing, rather than a natural reaction to the worst economic crisis of the current century). Long, agonizing think pieces are dedicated to figuring out why we are “The Cheapest Generation”, written by what I imagine must be a room of bearded, balding men in tiny glasses with thick frames pondering furiously why those darned kids these days were acting so strangely. What’s funny is that I find those who would condemn our generation for being less consumerist less infuriating than those who would praise it. Newsweek tells us that Millennials are “not that into things,” implying that our generation is somehow more moral and pure, as if the combination of circumstance and genetics has magically imbued us with a superior worldview.

(The best part of that article, by the way? The only data it cites on materialism is a study that points out that Millennials and their parents prioritize experiences over possessions at exactly the same rate.)

Look, Millennials, to paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk, we are not special. We’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. We’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.

We, like everyone else, are broke. The economic system Mom and Dad relied on fell apart somewhere along the way—the only difference is that they were lucky enough to have stashed something away before it all came crashing down. We live with our parents because we can’t get jobs, even with college degrees. We don’t buy homes because less than half of for sale homes are within the reach of median Millennials. We don’t buy cars because between rising housing costs and ballooning student loan debts, we don’t really have the economic strength to add auto loans onto our financial load.

We aren’t weird. We aren’t special. We aren’t lazy.

We’re just broke.

So let’s stop asking the boring questions and start asking interesting ones.

When the economy picks up, will Millennials begin to act like their parents, or are these economy induced changes permanent? We know the recession affected older Millennials—but what about the youngest, who are set to enter a much healthier job market?

If we’re not special snowflakes, what are we?

Photo credit: Peter Gerdes via photopin cc.

Armand Domalewski enjoys solving global poverty, ending homelessness, and long walks on the beach. He’s a national champion coaching public speaking instructor based in San Francisco and a graduate of Santa Clara University.

5 thoughts on “Millennial Truths: What Marketers Don’t Want You to Know

  1. steve_dodd says:

    Arrmand, I can’t thank you enough for such a well written observation!  My only critique is that not all “bearded, balding men in tiny glasses with thick frames” think the way you suggest.  In fact, most don’t.  The really deep thinkers and those who truly get marketing definitely want to understand the questions you are asking.  Because you know what?  As you clearly stated, you are experiencing exactly the same frustrations we (your parents) did at your age, just more pronounced and obvious because we now have the ability (through social media) to hear it en mass. The factors are different, but the impact was very much the same.  IMHO, it’s all about fundamentally understanding the evolution of consumer (human) attitude and managing lifetime value.

    BTW, for the record, I’d argue that many “in that room” look a lot like you……………*S*.

    But, what I love most about your comment was the statement “If we’re not special snowflakes, what are we?”. We ALL are!  And marketers need to get that, quickly.  Personally, I’m tired of the “Do as I say, not as I do” marketing that we are seeing right now where everyone preaches individuality and relevant targeting but continues to bombard us all with the same old mass (category) approaches. 

    Armand, it is not you or your generation who are lazy.  It’s those who aren’t prepared to really think it all through and just gravitate towards “same ole, same ole” who are.

    Well said sir!  Well said.

  2. JoeCardillo says:

    steve_dodd Nicely said. It’s really the manipulation and laziness that makes us tune out, Millennial or otherwise.

  3. Lee says:

    my parents experienced the recession in the early 70s so this one seems like they are going back to when they were in their early 20s. Difference is Mom could get a entry level job as a bookeeper/ office clerk with no experience and only a HS degree SO RARE these days. Also most associate’s degrees, Medical and specialized, or Secretarial and specialized, my aunt went to a secretary vocational hs and became a receptionist right out of college, retired with state benefits, millenials as I speak for them would love those opportunities. Instead a lot of older millenials are going back to school or getting medical related-nursing especially degrees out of stability rather than necessity anything else almost seems like the Starving Artist route, doesn’t have to be medical related but more specialized say engineering, biology,computers, hell pharmacy doctorates, glutted librarian schools for the humanities/education driven .
    Hell being a teacher actually LOOKS GOOD now, as in steady starting salary .

  4. Lee says:

    Oh and people wonder why the Law schools are more crowded than ever !

  5. Lee says:

    remember only 1/3 of the population finishes college as well traditional 4 yr liberal arts in many cases isn’t the answer but in a lot of places we’ve been conditioned that manufacturing etc is lower, hell I’d rethink that if I thought I could actually physically do the work at say a place like boeing a la washington state, or more like South Carolina . But no everything’s so shoved down throat of you need to go the traditional route unless your learning disabled etc. in general . Well younger millenials were taught differently than older ones it’s the new Z(seriously wtf can we stop being called millenials and instead go back to gen y(and gen X keeps on getting pushed back to only those born in the 1970s not the 1982 number it used to be? !) I was not born in 2000) kids I’m worried about more bc I am a millenial .

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