I’ll say some words, you tell me what I’m describing. Gym selfies. Instagram stories. Flat shares (rented, obvs). Gluten free. “Personal brand”. Activated charcoal. Social media-induced anxiety. Bingo! Yes, it’s millennials!
Pity that generation; or envy them? Such is the quandary posed by the cover article of the Economist’s 1843 Magazine this month: “#NoFilter: Inside the mind of a millennial” (since re-titled in the online version). But perhaps there’s a third option: understand them. Because no good is to be gained by finding a single person aged 22–37 and extrapolating an entire generation from her, as this piece does, with Alexa, a 24 year old PR exec.
I have something to say at this point. My name is Tom and I’m a millennial. I’m 34, I don’t eat charcoal, rent, care much about my personal brand, and I’m not gluten free. Sure, I don’t each much meat, but that’s hardly new (both my parents in law — baby boomers — are vegan). Does this make me less millennial? After all: is it a demographic, encompassing up to 12m people in the UK depending on how you count it, or a mindset — a shared set of actions, purchase decisions, internet behaviours?
You’re probably thinking: profiles of millennials? What is this, 2014? Where are my Gen Z insights? But let’s pause for a moment and ask what good summing up any population of this size into distinct personality traits does. In our world, of marketing and advertising, it’s going to lead to bland, patronising work that speaks to no one. In the broader world, it builds walls between generations that encourage sneering, division, and an excuse to shut out the opinions of others.
Perhaps the fact that Alexa takes a while to get ready for a party — a scene that the article covers in depth — is something that older readers (who will soon be reading through the accompanying spine-bound digest of watches that cost the GDP of a small country) can relate to. But slap a lazy label on the subject and it reads as othering — a pointing and laughing, a “look-at-this” attitude. What has Alexa done to deserve this?
Enough; let’s fix this. One of the great things about marketing and advertising is not that it uses identities to sell. It’s that it can, when done well, breathe life into identity, giving people something to feel positive and confident about. But to get to that greatness, you need to understand those identities at a deeper level than a 15-year-wide range of dates of birth will give you. So stop asking me to #JoinTheConversation. Let’s #EndMillennialStereotypesNow.
Tom Pursey is the co-founder and creative director of agency Flying Object, who work across content, influencers, experiential and design. If you’re a marketer wanting to move past stereotypes, get in touch.